Who hasn't dreamed, on a mundane Monday or frowzy Friday, of chucking it all in and packing off to the south of France? Provençal cookbooks and guidebooks entice with provocatively fresh salads and azure skies, but is it really all Côtes-du-Rhône and fleur-de-lis? Author Peter Mayle answers that question with wit, warmth, and wicked candor in A Year in Provence, the chronicle of his own foray into Provençal domesticity.
Beginning, appropriately enough, on New Year's Day with a divine luncheon in a quaint restaurant, Mayle sets the scene and pits his British sensibilities against it. "We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers," he writes, "looked with an addict's longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window." He describes in loving detail the charming, 200-year-old farmhouse at the base of the Lubéron Mountains, its thick stone walls and well-tended vines, its wine cave and wells, its shade trees and swimming pool-its lack of central heating. Indeed, not 10 pages into the book, reality comes crashing into conflict with the idyll when the Mistral, that frigid wind that ravages the Rhône valley in winter, cracks the pipes, rips tiles from the roof, and tears a window from its hinges. And that's just January.
In prose that skips along lightly, Mayle records the highlights of each month, from the aberration of snow in February and the algae-filled swimming pool of March through the tourist invasions and unpredictable renovations of the summer months to a quiet Christmas alone. Throughout the book, he paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Provençaux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn. A Year in Provence is part memoir, part homeowner's manual, part travelogue, and all charming fun. – L.A. Smith
From Publishers Weekly
An account of the author's first frustrating but enlightening year in Provence opens with a memorable New Year's lunch and closes with an impromptu Christmas dinner. "In nimble prose, Mayle… captures the humorous aspects of visits to markets, vineyards and goat races, and hunting for mushrooms," said PW.
One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, A Year in Provence is a light-hearted autobiography as well as a travel/restaurant guide and cultural study of the south of France. Peter Mayle, once a British businessman, has finally chucked it all and bought a house in Provence with his wife and two dogs. He recounts a year of their adventures living and working amid the French, including daily struggles with the strong Provençal accent, the nosiness of neighbors, and the self-proclaimed experts on everything from geophysics to truffle hunting. His humorous yet affectionate approach will make you long for France, particularly the south, whether or not you've ever been there.
You won't be able to stop laughing when you read about the author's discovery of French bureaucracy and the bone-chilling winter wind called the Mistral, his desperate tactical maneuvering to get his house remodeled, and the hordes of rude tourists. You'll be tickled by his observations of French greetings and body language. You'll love his French neighbors and hate his English friends. And you will be starving after reading his mouth-watering descriptions of dozens of restaurants and dinner parties.
Whether you are interested in learning more about French, "the Hexagon," or cuisine française, A Year in Provence is the book to get you started on your cultural discovery of the south of France. The best discovery of all is that Peter Mayle continues to write about Provence, both non-fiction and novels. You will definitely want to seek out all of his books and continue learning about the people, traditions, and food of southern France.
Laura K. Lawless
From Publishers Weekly
Mayle's breezy, uncomplicated fifth novel (Chasing Cezanne, etc.) and ninth book follows 30-something Max Skinner from a sabotaged financial career in London to his adoption of the Provençal lifestyle on an inherited vineyard in France. Max spent holidays at his Uncle Henry's vineyard as a child, so when he inherits the place, the prospect of returning is tempting; a generous "bridging loan" from ex-brother-in-law Charlie seals the deal. The estate, Le Griffon, is in a dire state of disrepair and the wine cellar is filled with bottles of a dreadful-tasting swill, but it's nothing that vineyard caretaker Claude Roussel and prim housekeeper Madame Passepartout can't resolve. Max settles into his new life easily thanks to the attentions of local notary Nathalie Auzet and busty cafe owner Fanny. The arrival of young Californian "wine brat" Christie Roberts, Uncle Henry's long-lost daughter, complicates matters for Max, but her surprise offer and Charlie's arrival lessen the impact of a vicious vineyard scandal involving a delicious, high-priced, discreetly produced wine called Le Coin Perdu. Mayle's simple story provides lighthearted if unadventurous reading and a fond endorsement of the pleasures of viniculture.
From The Washington Post
Even a hyperactive terrier will sometimes melt to the floor, paws in the air and tongue alop, when he's approached by someone he trusts. But will he get a soul-satisfying belly rub this time or just a quick pat and tickle? The expectant pooch never knows.
So it is for fans of Peter Mayle, who became the adoptive bard of Provence with his phenomenally successful A Year in Provence. Will admirers open the ex-advertising man's ninth book and find the Mayle whose eye for detail and ear for language make for satisfying wallows in the south of France (the original Year, Hotel Pastis, Anything Considered) or the Mayle who sometimes slices the saucisson a bit thin in an effort to perpetuate his franchise (Toujours Provence, Encore Provence)?
The short answer is that A Good Year, Mayle's latest fictional confection, winds up slightly in the latter category. Once again we have the beleaguered Brit at an unhappy crossroad. In Hotel Pastis it was Simon Shaw being stripped bare by his newly minted ex-wife; in Anything Considered it was Bennett, the Brit on his uppers trying to score by flushing toilets in closed-up manor houses to keep an invented strain of dung beetles from invading the plumbing lines (that actually was funny). And once again the sunny south comes to the rescue, with the potential for making a living without losing one's soul, with a rasher of busty, leggy women and, of course, with good food and drink.
But, as the creators of television's "Law and Order" understand, why tamper with a winning formula? And thus are we launched into the marginal life of Max Skinner, a London investment banker suddenly deal-less and jobless on the streets of the City, where the day's weather forecast is for "scattered showers, followed by outbreaks of heavier rain, with a chance of hail."
And all this is followed, in Peter Mayle's classic caper formula, by timely good luck (inheritance, on the very day he loses his job, of a beloved uncle's big old house and vineyard in the hilly Luberon region of Provence), more good luck (dishy village maidens and a languid new lifestyle to explore), a halfway-engaging intrigue (an unknown American rival for the estate and the mysterious interest in vines that seem to produce nothing but pipi de chat – you know, cat pee) and then more good luck (they all drink happily every after). Coming soon to a movie theater near you, thanks to filmmaker Ridley Scott, whose "nose for a good story" got Mayle started on the rather thin plot and who already has "A Good Year" in production.
Are we just being cranky? Maybe. There really is a comfort factor that assures long, profitable lives to characters – fictional detectives, for instance – whose next formula book readers learn to anticipate. But when the formula is presented practically bare-bones, with only cursory attempts at embellishment, heretofore faithful readers may walk away feeling they've been snookered.
Mayle's deftness with detail – grace notes rather than entire imagery-laden passages – has been thoroughly catalogued. But there's detail that moves you right along: "He turned off the N7 toward Rognes and followed the narrow road that twisted through groves of pine and oak, warm air coming through the open window, the sound of Patrick Bruel whispering 'Parlez-moi d'amour' trickling like honey from the radio." (Okay, moves you along with a little huffing and puffing.) And then there's detail that stops you cold: " 'Air France to Marseille?' The girl at the desk didn't even bother to consult her computer. 'Out of luck there, sir. Air France doesn't fly direct to Marseille from London anymore. I could try British Airways.' "
Yes, by all means, please do.
The caper in A Good Year revolves around a mysterious small-batch cult wine that never makes it to the wine store and trades as an investment. But given that the bulk of Mayle's faithful are presumed Francophiles and therefore at least marginally interested in viticulture, the false note on page 90 is perplexing. As Max inspects his vineyard for the first time he finds a piece of his land that "sloped away gently down to the east… the surface appeared to consist entirely of jagged limestone pebbles, blinding white in the sun, warm to the touch, an immense natural radiator. It seemed unlikely that even the most undemanding of weeds could find sufficient nourishment to grow here. And yet the vines appeared to be healthy."
Perhaps Max has never read descriptions of the poor, gravelly soil in many of the finest districts of Bordeaux, source of some of the priciest wines in the world. But those who have done so are doomed to spend the next 197 pages wondering why Mayle would give the game away so early. Kindly interpretation: We're meant to read on, smiling slightly, feeling superior to poor Max. Or, darker thought: Mayle thinks we're clueless enough to fall for this.
Even as venerable a novelist as Graham Greene recognized that lighter fare – Our Man in Havana, Stamboul Train – had a role to play in his life as a writer and ours as readers. He nonetheless flinched slightly, labeling these works "entertainments." As entertaining as Peter Mayle can be, he might aim a bit higher – if not for his own entertainment, then for ours.
Wafer-thin saucisson, oui. Pipi de chat on the rocks? Non!
In A Good Year, Max Skinner's London career has just taken a nosedive when he suddenly inherits his uncle's vineyard in Provence. Leaving one life behind to start another, Max soon discovers that the wine made on his uncle's land is swill, but he's captivated by the village, landscape, weather, and the beautiful notaire. He can't understand why the caretaker is so eager to buy the land when the wine is so bad, and then a woman claiming to be his uncle's long-lost daughter arrives from California with her claim on the property. Max's new life threatens to fall out from under him before it can even take off. Peter Mayle (author of A Year in Provence) has written a light-hearted novel that has received positive reviews. BookPage says, "Brimming with colorful, eccentric characters, A Good Year offers both a behind-the-scenes peek at the high-stakes wine business and a voyeuristic portrait of Provencal village life. Richly evocative of the pleasures of both place and palate, Mayle's latest is sure to entertain and delight his many devotees."
Set in Hollywood, Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille, Peter Mayle’s newest and most delightful novel is filled with culinary delights, sumptuous wines, and colorful characters. It’s also a lot of fun.
The story begins high above Los Angeles, at the extravagant home and equally impressive wine cellar of entertainment lawyer Danny Roth. Unfortunately, after inviting the Los Angeles Times to write an extensive profile extolling the liquid treasures of his collection, Roth finds himself the victim of a world-class wine heist.
Enter Sam Levitt, former corporate lawyer, cultivated crime expert, and wine connoisseur. Called in by Roth’s insurance company, which is now saddled with a multimillion-dollar claim, Sam follows his leads-to Bordeaux and its magnificent vineyards, and to Provence to meet an eccentric billionaire collector who might possibly have an interest in the stolen wines. Along the way, bien sûr, he is joined by a beautiful and erudite French colleague, and together they navigate many a château, pausing frequently to enjoy the countryside’s abundant pleasures.
The unraveling of the ingenious crime is threaded through with Mayle’s seductive rendering of France ’s sensory delights-from a fine Lynch-Bages and Léoville Barton to the bouillabaisse of Marseille and the young lamb of Bordeaux. Even the most sophisticated of oenophiles will learn a thing or two from this vintage work by a beloved author.