Books Set in France – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.

Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.

So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.

‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot

Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.

‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.

‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris

Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!

‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart

We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.

So if you have your tickets booked for Charles de Gaulle airport or you just WISH you had a holiday planned for France, try the books above to immerse yourself in a bit of French life and culture. And if you find yourself enjoying them…well, there’s plenty more to explore…Bon Voyage!

The Pros and Cons of the Lonely Planet Morocco Guidebook – A Book Review

If you are into travelling as I am, you would agree that travel guidebooks are one of the essential tools one should have. They are a very helpful in the sense that a tremendous amount of time and effort has gone into creating them for accurate information. Some of them can be a little too patronizing and confusing sometimes.

I have learned from experience that it would be a big mistake to cling to them religiously as many travelers do, since most of them are often out of date before they are even published. It would really be nice to be able to get the most out of these guidebooks but believe me, it would be best that you learn how to use them sparingly and rely on your better judgment. Lonely Planet is an authority when it comes to creating travel guides.

Let’s take a look at some of the Pros and Cons of the Lonely Planet Morocco guidebook. I travelled to Morocco on a two-week trip to experience the “Red City” and immerse myself in an adventure of sorts and I used the Lonely Planet Morocco guidebook to help me throughout my trip. I don’t know how to speak any French or Arabic which made me solely dependent on the guidebook which was great because it contained basic phrases that anybody could use for basic communication such as for asking directions.

What’s great about the Lonely Planet Morocco is how the chapters and logistical information are organized. It also has some good information on accommodations and how to get around the place. There are even maps in the guidebook that I think are pretty basic but are really useful. I’ve heard some people comment that they find the map confusing rather than helpful. All I could say is “It worked for me”.

Well, there are a couple of things about it that I did not like. First off, the Lonely Planet Morocco guidebook is extremely heavy that it would be a chore to take it around with you. I was seriously contemplating on ripping out some pages but ended up just photocopying those pages I needed. Another thing that I don’t like is how Lonely Planet has devoted a significant number of pages to history and culture.

Sure, it’s interesting and informative but I don’t think it’s practically useful to a traveler on the road. I think people would really benefit from it if Lonely Planet devoted more pages on information regarding restaurants in Morocco, activities, entertainment, nightlife, relaxation and the like that I’m sure a lot of tourists are looking forward to experiencing and getting some useful information on.

I would say that the guidebook is generally useful even though it does have a couple of minor flaws. There’s one more thing that I want to share that I feel is really important that you be aware of. There are some hotels and hoteliers in Fes that are using their exposure in the guidebook to hawk their services and take advantage of some customers by raising their prices just because they got featured in Lonely Planet Morocco.

Visiting Morocco is one of the most memorable travel experiences that I had and even though it’s not entirely hassle-free, it’s been great! I’ve spent less time getting myself lost because I had a wonderful tool that has helped me research as well as make all the necessary arrangements a traveler needs ahead of time. Lonely Planet Morocco is certainly a great reference when it comes to travel, exploration and adventure.

What Am I Doing Here by Bruce Chatwin

The title of Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here carries no question mark. Perhaps that is because this title represents merely the traveller’s rhetorical mumbled aside, a phrase not intended to be asked, let alone answered. These are surely just the mumbled words that punctuate experience, uttered like “Well here we are” to provoke a moment’s reflection on the path travelled thus far and the unknown routes that still lie ahead. Perhaps also the title is a question whose multiple answers are simply the stories, reflections, observations or whimsies contained in this magnificent, almost random volume.

The pieces are grouped, but the only classification is by broad scope of content. There are sections relating to Russia and China, but Chatwin does not attempt to raise the country-specificity into a structure. There are pieces about people, some known, some famous, some historical, some fictional. Some were met along the way, while others were lifelong friends. There are a few tales from the art world, arising from the author’s employment in a famous dealer’s house, and these inevitably contain eccentricity, occasional surprise, sham and consideration of provenance. There’s some myth as we set off in search of yeti, intruding reality in the form of a coup and unwanted restriction as recurrent illness regularly reminds the author of its presence. Overall these pieces have the characteristic of a commonplace book containing random jottings, some of which have been expanded into something more finished. They thus do not purport to any particular sequence, and clearly there remains much that is omitted between the lines.

But this is not a problem. Each piece is a gem. The writer’s style, often proclaimed as jagged, spiky or idiosyncratic, genuinely reflects the experience of travel, when the view around the next unknown bend is as likely to bore as excite, achieve the commonplace as frequently as the spectacular. The reader is thus offered a genuine share in the writer’s direct experience and the time always feels quite real. The sentences take you there, render you a fellow traveller, not a mere recipient of another’s reflections.

And though he does not attempt to become a professional name-dropper, Bruce Chatwin clearly brushed shoulders with some pretty impressive people, and even a couple of quite famous ones. His recollections of meetings, friendships and events themselves take on the same immediacy and clarity he brings to his travel pieces. There are journeys around people that on occasions venture inside as well, but, also like good travel writing, it’s the journey itself that leaves the reader a space to reach individual, personal judgments that are not forced by the writer’s prejudice.

What Am I Doing Here certainly is a question, but by not admitting its own reality it thus never primarily seeks to find answers. It’s the experience itself that counts and, like all thought-provoking memories recalled from the journey, the recollections just keep returning to demand re-interpretation. It’s a short book that seems to remain only impressionistic, but well before the end What Am I Doing Here transforms itself into a long-lasting and profound experience, one that can be re-lived repeatedly.