A Famous-Five style adventure for grown-ups – CARDIGANSHIRE / LONDON
Ten great books set in Paris
13th September 2019
Paris is the latest location for us to visit in our ‘Great Books set in… series. Ten great books set in Paris. Nowhere else on earth makes the heart swoon like the mention of Paris. The city lures with its magnificent art, architecture, culture, and cuisine, but there’s also a quieter magic waiting to be explored: the quaint cobbled lanes, the sweet patisseries around the corner, and the cosy little bistros that beckon with a glass of Beaujolais. Get ready to make Paris your own.
‘Tout est bien qui finit bien’ – All’s well that ends well: Parisian saying
Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks
Here is Paris as you have never seen it before – a city in which every building seems to hold the echo of an unacknowledged past, the shadows of Vichy and Algeria.
American postdoctoral researcher Hannah and runaway Moroccan teenager Tariq have little in common, yet both are susceptible to the daylight ghosts of Paris. Hannah listens to the extraordinary witness of women who were present under the German Occupation; in her desire to understand their lives, and through them her own, she finds a city bursting with clues and connections. Out in the migrant suburbs, Tariq is searching for a mother he barely knew. For him in his innocence, each boulevard, Métro station and street corner is a source of surprise.
In this urgent and deeply moving novel, Faulks deals with questions of empire, grievance and identity. With great originality and a dark humour, Paris Echo asks how much we really need to know if we are to live a valuable life.
I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake
I knew I was in Paris, I knew that was the Seine beneath me, the sky above, but when I looked around for help, the grand apartment buildings of the Quai Voltaire stared back at me, indifferent.
In the sixth arrondissement everything is perfect and everyone is lonely. This is the Paris of thirteen-year-old Paul. Shy and unloved, he quietly observes the lives of the self-involved grown-ups around him: his glamorous maman Séverine, her young musician lover Gabriel and his fitness-obsessed papa Philippe. Always overlooked, it’s only a matter of time before Paul sees something that he’s not supposed to see…
Seeking solace in his unlikely friendship with tear-away classmate Scarlett and the sweet confections from the elegant neighbourhood patisseries, Paul yearns for unconditional love. But what will he do if he can’t find it?
Alicia Drake evokes contemporary Parisian life with the subtlety of a latter-day Françoise Sagan, and she captures in Paul the pains of adolescence as poignantly as Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. I Love You Too Much is a novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart, a devastating coming-of-age story told from the sidelines of Parisian perfection.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.
The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
1895: an army officer, Georges Picquart, watches a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of a baying crowd. Dreyfus is exiled for life to Devil’s Island; Picquart is promoted to run the intelligence unit that tracked him down. But when Picquart discovers that secrets are still being handed over to the Germans, he is drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit and corruption that threatens not just his honour but his life…
And the Show Went On by Alan Riding
In June 1940, Paris fell to the Nazis who made the world’s cultural capital their favourite entertainment ground. Music halls and cabarets thrived during the occupation, providing plenty of work for actors, singers and musicians – except for Jews. The likes of Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf, who had entertained the French troops, now unabashedly provided amusement to the Germans. After the invasion of France, those artists still in Paris had to find ways to survive. Although Matisse and others kept out of view, Picasso could not avoid Nazi visitors. A few, like Beckett, joined the Resistance.
Foreign Tongue by Vanina Marsot
Anna has just had her heart broken in LA. But unlike most women who have been unlucky with love, she has an enviable backup plan – she uses her dual citizenship and moves to Paris to live in her aunt’s empty (and free) apartment. Paris, the city of romance, might not seem like the easiest place to mend a broken heart, but Anna tries to find solace in the cobble-stoned streets, fresh bread, delectable pastries, and sexy Parisian men. While there, she finds a job translating a mysterious, erotic French novel by a famous French author who is staying anonymous. As she is intrigued by his story and taken in by the mystery behind the book, she learns more about herself and how to find the best parts of her French and American self.
Quiet Corners of Paris by Jean-Christophe Napais
Quiet Corners of Paris is a beautifully illustrated peek into eighty-one often overlooked, always beautiful, locales: hidden villas, winding lanes, little-known 19th-century passages, serene gardens, and cobblestone courtyards. Some of the places have breathtaking views, others are filled with historic and architectural details, from stone archways, garden follies, boxwood mazes, ornamental statuary, stained glass, and Renaissance fountains….
The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs
1928 Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world s most gifted performers. When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she s captivated by his quiet intensity and falls passionately in love. Persuaded she has clairvoyant powers, Lucia believes her destiny is to marry Beckett.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers. The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now.
Paris Spring by James Naughtie
Paris, April 1968.
The cafes are alive with talk of revolution, but for Will Flemyng – secret servant at the British embassy – the crisis is personal. A few words from a stranger on the metro change his life. His family is threatened with ruin and he now faces the spy’s oldest fear: exposure.Freddy Craven is the hero and mentor Flemyng would trust with his life, but when he is tempted into a dark, Cold War labyrinth, he chooses the dangerous path and plays his game alone.Then a bizarre murder reveals a web of secrets, and his loyalty to family and friends is tested as never before.
Which titles would you add? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below, there are so many more books that will transport you for some excellent location fiction.
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For me, the novels of Antoine Laurain capture the essence of Paris. They’re all brilliantly entertaining and thought-provoking, but I’d recommend The Red Notebook as an entry point if you’ve never read him. (They’re also very well translated!)
That is so true. And yes, an excellent book with which to start!! Thank you for stopping by!
Ooh, Foreign Tongue looks like it would hit the spot right about now! 🙂
My novel, The Witch’s List, is partly set in Paris. Take a trip to the Catacombs, the Cité Université, and the Locomotive nightclub, as seen through the eyes of young Scotland, Sandy Beech…
Emile Zola’s ‘Germinal’ is an all time French favourite of mine,a newer one is ‘The Awkward Squad’ which gives a Parisian twist to the police procedural
Thanks – we’ve added both to the database…
We have, though, set Germinal in Val-d’Oise – in the Île-de-France, just outside Paris.
Excellent list! Murder in Clinchy is now on my TBR list. 😉
Oh and to add? Zola’s Nana, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. If you want some ideas for walking tours, there’s a good little book called Forever Paris that follows in the footsteps of celebrities like St Laurent, Audrey Hepburn and Colette.
Thanks for the feedback. We’ve added Nana and Forever Paris to the database. A Tale Of Two Cities was already there, but classified as being set in both London and Paris. We looked at only books set purely in Paris for the list we generated! Hope that worked OK…
The Robert Harris one is teriffic and I like the look of the James Naughtie thriller. More for the tbr pile!
Thanks for the list, I have read two of them. Paris Spring reminded me of my trips to Paris and particularly the banks of the Seine. Must try the rest. The book pile is getting bigger.
The Robert Harris is unputdownable. For something set at similar time which keeps Paris firmly in the socially corrupt mire, try “Old Goriot” by Balzac. Formidable!
We’ll be adding it!
I would add to this list: Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Gertrude Stein’s Paris France, the graphic novel Kiki de Montparnasse by Catel & Bocquet, and George Simenon’s The Man Who Watched Trains Go By.
Thanks for this:
1. A Moveable Feast is in our Paris database, but didn’t make the top ten
2. We have neither Paris France nor Kiki de Montparnasse in the database. We shall add them!
3. We have The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By down in our database as a Dutch title. We’ll happily add Paris as well…
Thanks again for the feedback.
I’ve read two of the titles and look forward to reading the rest .
I have only read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to be honest I like the look of most of them x