I read a couple of reviews on goodreads for this book and had to laugh at some of those who felt the book was whiney and written by a rich guy who could afford a super farmhouse with a pool no less! One review said that Mayle went back to England to live. Peter and his wife have left behind their lives in England to move to Provence, buy a farmhouse and settle in to a slower pace of life. This part in particular reminded me of the time we bought a fixer-upper right on the beach in a beautiful town in Chile, and went through so many similar situations with repairmen and guests.
2. Once you do this everyone who has ever vaguely heard your name and Provence together in the same sentence will attempt to visit whilst you are having a hell of a time fixing the charming antiquated house and bicycling into town. You are to be pitied, poor thing, having been forced to survive on mostly fresh breads, herbed cheeses, and the occasional sausage. But give it a year or so before you decide to go home- at the very least, wait until you have managed to have your grapes harvested by the guy that works your vines-you've got to have your own wine to drink with your breads and cheeses to give you the strength to go on.
This it turns out wasn't quite true of Mayle who had made his packet of money in advertising in New York, but this book became emblematic of the aspiration of a generation - to sell up, move to France and enjoy the food and drink. Mayle is curiously present and absent from the book - obviously he is the central figure but we learn nothing about him or his wife who really could have been a man or a particularly clingy kangaroo as far as I could tell from the text, they have some French (unusually for this genre in which humorous inability to communicate with locals may be a key plot point) but they struggle with the way French people speak it. At the same time he doesn't tell us how much his own house cost or the cost of installing central heating - this is all about living the dream (view spoiler) provided you dream of living of living in a stone farm house in Provence and eating fantastic restaurant food at modest prices (hide spoiler)
After I finished reading this I didn't think that I had learned a single thing about life in France. Instead of a book about an over-privileged douche bag paying people to fix up an old house Id much rather read a memoir of someone who moved to France and actually had to work for a living.
I've read quite a few negative reviews of this book, many of them focusing on the author's presumption in being able to afford a home in Provence and the reviewers' consequent inability to "relate" to him. Would it be a good basis for discussion in a book group?
Mayle understands the importance of gastronomy to the French and his food descriptions are a well written part of his story. Mayle is, after all, a wealthy writer from England who is able to purchase a two century old stone house with a stone swimming pool on land that contains a vineyard, a cherry orchard, and other agricultural acreage all tended by a local farmer (the tradition being that the landowner purchases the seed/vines while the farmer does the work.
So I've finished it, and although it had its moments where I chuckled a bit, I really didn't find it to be the incredible, evocative travel writing that it had been cracked up to be. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm always up for a good renovation story, but Peter Mayle's mind was so distracted with getting his home perfected, that the establishment of place (which is so key to travel writing) suffered for it.
The book does contain the obligatory shout-outs to French paperwork and the way business is conducted there, as well as copious descriptions of food and wine, so it hits all the right marks, and I considered giving it an extra star (3 total) in recognition of the fact that I read it about 25 years too late. When my sister gave me this book years ago (after she had read it and loved it), she also gave me its sequel, Toujours Provence, but it's going to be a long time before I'll be willing go in for more of this sort of thing.
There's really nothing I don't like about this book. Peter Mayle, the author, writes in a charming book that, in my opinion makes the people of Provence endearing. Of course a former Soviet, Eastern European country is quite different than France but I was struck by how many similarities there are.
Peter Mayle (born June 14, 1939, in Brighton) was a British author famous for his series of books detailing life in Provence, France.