Why Join?

  • Add New Books

  • Write a Review

  • Backpack Reading Lists

  • Newsletter Updates

Join Now

Novel set in France (author Marie Houzelle talks locale)

1st January 2015

Tita by Marie Houzelle, novel set in France.

Author Marie Houzelle grew up in the south of France, near the setting of Tita. Her work has appeared in Best Paris Stories, Narrative Magazine, Pharos, Orbis, Serre-Feuilles, Van Gogh’s Ear, and in the chapbook No Sex Last Noon. Her short story “Hortense on Tuesday Night” was chosen by Narrative Magazine as one of the five top stories of 2011.

IMG_3296Her novel Tita is set in Cugnac, a fictional small town in the extreme south of France, somewhere between Perpignan and Carcassonne. It tells the story of an extremely bright and independent seven-year-old girl in a traditional wine-producing town the south of France in the 1950s. Tita – whose is really called Euphémie –  is a young girl living in the bosom of her family, with her younger sister. She is a ‘petite fille modèle” and this is her story, her experiences, her life. Father is struggling with his wine business, and Mother is disconnected woman who seems to struggle with her role as parent. And gradually it becomes apparent that Tita struggles with food, spurning milk products because they feel “intimately mammalian”. Food smells cause her to heave and steer herself to the furthest corner away from the gagging smells that assault her nostrils. So there is clearly some issue that is causing her distress and there are several examples of Mum not really being emotionally available for her daughter….

She is a bright, focussed little girl who is wonderfully endearing and Houzelle is terrific at capturing the ambience of rural France in the 1950s, and the nature of a young girl who is avidly engaging with the world around her. The book has a real old fashioned feel to it, it is beautifully written, it is funny, astute and warm, and the locale is very much an enveloping character in the book – you can almost smell the garrigue. A delightful read! Enjoy.

Tina for the TripFiction team

The author talks to us about location and what it means to her:

Setting: Near Narbonne, a Roman colony founded on the mediterranean coast in 118 BC, which was the capital of Gallia Narbonensis (Narbonese Gaul). It’s a part of the country that is often unfamiliar to Parisians who, when I tell them that I come from the south, tend to ask: “The Provence? The Sud-Ouest?” No, I answer. “The South-South.”

Cugnac: The area is surrounded by vineyards dotted with fig trees, hills covered with pines, olive groves, and garrigue – scrubland that smells of rosemary, thyme and lavender.

The winds define the complexion of each day: “The Cers, our north wind, is dry and strong — so strong that, when it blows against you, downhill can feel like uphill. You push the pedals of your bike with all your strength and hardly manage to stay put.” Cato describes it in the 2nd century BC: “When you speak, it rushes into your mouth; it knocks over an armed man, or a loaded wagon.”

Whereas the Marin from the southeast “is fresh, soft, and imbued with invigorating scents from the depths of the Mediterranean.” It often brings rain after a while. Parisians are obsessed with the sun, which they equate with “lovely weather”. They try to get as tanned as they can, which in Tita’s opinion does nothing for their looks. “We locals hide from the hot sun. We like the sea wind and its fickle showers.”

The beaches are nearby. Tita’s favorite is Gruissan, whose seaside village, built in the 19th century (as opposed to the medieval fishing village, slightly more inland) is unlike any other: all the houses are made of wood and built on stilts. “That’s because sometimes the water comes up almost to the level of what would be the upper floor (actually, the only floor), and you need a rowboat to go from house to house. The sand is dark, dense, slightly wet.”

In southern French towns and cities, there is a tradition of dressing up and walking on the promenade before dinner. Families take out their children, single people meet their friends; girls usually walk with a few other girls, boys with other boys. In Cugnac, the promenade is simply called “l’avenue”, and the young people’s practice of walking back and forth to check each other out is called faire l’avenue, “to do the avenue”.

Here is Justine, Tita’s older sister:

“I’ll wait for you in front of the school, and we’ll go together. Then,” she whispers in my ear “we’ll be just in time for a few turns on the avenue. I need to catch up.”

“Catch up?” I whisper back. “You mean with boys?” “Exactly.”

In Narbonne, the promenade is Les Barques, beautifully filmed in Jean Eustache’s Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus (1966)

Later in the evening, the whole population of the town is out. The children can skip and romp through the narrow winding streets around the church and into the avenue, greeted as they pass “by the many older people who sit in cafés, or on benches and chairs outside their houses, enjoying the fresh air and the action”.

Thank you to Marie for her thoughts on locale. You can connect with her via her blog.

And come and say hello on social media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.


Subscribe to future blog posts

Latest Blogs

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 02/01/2015 at 9:19 am

    It’s been a while, finally got to read your amazing review Tina 🙂