A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle

Summary (Amazon): In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: light-hearted

So I went skiing for the first time last weekend, and my return flight was delayed for 3 hours. We were lucky to make it out at all. The tiny airport didn’t even have a bookstore, but it did have free wi-fi. So I went through my To Read list to see if any of the books on the list were available for instant download from the library. This one was!

This book is an auto-biographical account of the author’s (and his wife’s) move from London to Provence. The book is set up with chapters for each month, which is a unique way to do it, and it does actually tie into a point at the end of the book.

I understand why people really like this story. It’s succinct but not so much that it seems stunted. It’s quirky and funny, and the characters and the atmosphere really draw you in. However, to me, it wasn’t particularly relateable. My life essentially went in reverse–moving from a small town to a big city (and then a bigger one, and then a bigger one). Maybe sometime I will move to back to a small town, in a foreign country, and understand things a bit better.  Also this book was written in 1989. I’m curious whether the last 25 years have changed things. I guess I will have to travel to Provence to find out.

Peter and his wife, after years of traveling to Provence, decide to buy an 1800s farmhouse there to live. They develop good relationships with the neighbors, even the weird ones. Their closest neighbors, Faustin and Henrietta take care of the vinyard that stretches on both their properties. In January, when the first Mistral comes, their pipes freeze, and they realize that the house needs renovations. Thus begins their year-long adventure of how time moves in Provence.

The story focuses on a lot of the mundane sort of things that everyone deals with–tourists, visitors, restaurants, neighbors, renovations, and weather. But they are all seen through the lens of a different viewpoint and told with a whimsical humor.

The book has a great ending which I will share. Peter’s wife eventually grows a bit impatient at the unfinished house projects so she decides to take matters into her own hands and invite all the contractors and their wives over for a dinner. Suddenly all the contractors are over at their house, rapidly working to finish their projects so that they can show them off to their wives (brilliant!)! The projects are finished, the dinner is a success, and everything is ready for Christmas. When they awake on Christmas, they find that their power is out so they can’t cook their lamb. Restaurants apparently would have been booked for weeks (this surprised me because in the states, nothing is open on Christmas except the occasional Chinese restaurant!) but they call the chef at one of the restaurants anyway. He is so horrified by their circumstance of not being able to have a wonderful meal for Christmas (which to me seems very French–being concerned about not having a good meal), that he sets up a small table just outside the kitchen just for them.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

This is a fun, quick read. It takes a good writer to make a story out of general grocery shopping and home improvement. However, I do think that this story will appeal more to some people than to others.

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Review, Books

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