France -- fiction

Les Misérables: A Diamond of the First Water

Les Miserable movie poster featuring Anne Hathaway

Taking Victor Hugo's novel, Les Misérables, and transforming it first into a play and then into a movie is like selecting from among the finest of crown jewels and crafting them into a beautiful brooch.  Having seen the stage play many years ago and having read the book many, many years ago, I found the movie eminently satisfying, indeed beautifully done.

I had misgivings.  They had, I thought, studded it with Hollywood stars just to draw the audiences.  Nevertheless, it is very well cast.  It was some time before I recognized Hugh Jackman since his first appearance was as the imprisoned Jean Valjean with grubby face and closely-cropped hair.  It was not until he emerged as the respectable Mayor and beneficent factory owner that he was easily recognizable.  Valjean's crimes had been the stealing of a loaf of bread and the subsequent breaking of his parole for which he is relentlessly pursued by the dogged Inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe. 

The Pull of the Ocean by Jean-Claude Mourlevat

The Pull of the Ocean by Jean-Claude Mourlevat

In Jean-Claude Mourlevat’s The Pull of the Ocean, Yann Doutreleau, youngest of seven brothers and the only one not a twin, whispered to the rest that it was time to go. The wind and rain were beating down in the November night outside their farm house in French countryside, but it was still time to go. Their parents, he said, were going to harm them.

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted

Grief is a love story told backwards.

Heidi is no strangers to loss. She almost lost her mother as a child; she lost a baby. Two years ago Heidi lost her husband Henry, and she has been lost ever since. She is a gifted pastry chef who cannot even bake a cake for her sister’s wedding. The world has moved on but she has not. She is literally grief-stricken. She cannot explain to her now anxious germ-phobic son Abbott how in one moment your safe world can change suddenly and irrevocably. In The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, Bridget Asher captures Heidi’s sadness and her path back to love with great empathy, gentle humor and vivid imagery. The novel is sweet without being sappy and great for the armchair traveler to Provence.

Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Secret Mission

By Michael Bond

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Monseiur Pamplemousse has been summoned by the director of Le Guide, the prestigious culinary magazine for which Pamplemousse writes restaurant reviews. The aunt of the director's wife, whose restaurant perpetrates some of the worst food in France, is demanding to be included in the next issue. With the director's marriage at stake, he dispatches Pamplemousse to the Hotel du Paradis. There, Pamplemousse meets Aunt Louise, who serves him a dinner that causes his gorge to rise . . . and other things as well, for the meal contains an aphrodisiac of undeniable potency. Who would do such a thing? And why?
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Skeleton Dance

By Aaron Elkins

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Mild-Mannered forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver knows bones. That's why the Chief Inspector of the small French village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac calls upon him when a local dog emerges from a nearby cave carrying parts of a not-all-that-long-ago-interred human skeleton. Les Eyzies is the home of the prestigious Institut de Prehistoire, where eminent scientists study and squabble . . . and perhaps, on occasion, commit murder. Gideon's search for answers leads him quickly into the darkest corners of the scientific community, and sets him on a shocking trail of death, greed, and deception nearly forty thousand years in the making.
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The Magician's Wife

By Brian Moore

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Based upon an actual incident from the early days of the French imperialist drive into North Africa...The Magician's Wife tells a profound story of political will in conflict with spiritual belief--and of one woman's desires and convictions.

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The Portrait

By Iain Pears

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An influential art critic in the early years of the twentieth century journeys from London to the rustic, remote island of Houat, off France's northwest coast, to sit for a portrait painted by an old friend, a gifted but tormented artist living in self-imposed exile. Over the course of the sitting, the painter recalls their years of friendship, the double-edged gift of the critic's patronage, the power he wielded over aspiring artists, and his apparent callousness in anointing the careers of some and devastating the lives of others. The balance of power between the two men shifts dramatically as the critic becomes a passive subject, while the painter struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image, on canvas. Reminiscing with ease and familiarity one minute, with anger and menace the next, the painter eventually reveals why he has accepted the commission of this portrait, why he left London suddenly and mysteriously at the height of his success, and why now, with dark determination, he feels ready to return.
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By a Slow River

By Philippe Claudel

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"As the First World War rages on, the daily life of a small town near the front is hardly disturbed by the report of artillery fire and the parade of wounded in its streets. But within the space of a year, this illusion of ordinary days is shattered by the deaths of three innocents—-a charming schoolmistress from “the north,” who captured every male heart only to take her own life without apparent reason; an angelic eight-year-old girl, who is strangled, her body abandoned by the canal; and the cherished wife of the local policeman, who dies in labor while her husband is hunting the little girl’s murderer.

"Twenty years on, the policeman still struggles to make sense of these mysteries that both torment and sustain him. In the pages of his notebooks he continually—-desperately, obsessively—-summons up the past and its ghosts. But excavating the town’s secret history will bring neither peace to him nor justice to the wicked. And as his solitary detective work continues on these long-closed cases, we come to see that his efforts can lead only to an unimaginable widening of the tragedy. In the policeman’s simple, plangent voice--full of unflinching scrutiny and the compassion of weary experience--Philippe Claudel gives us a tale of galvanizing suspense and an indelible meditation on morality."

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Chocolat: A Novel

By Joanne Harris

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In a tiny French town where little has changed in the past century, newcomer Vianne Rocher arrives with her exquisite chocolate shop which immediately begins to play havoc with the villagers' Lenten vows. Each box of the bonbons comes with a free gift - Vianne's uncanny perceptions of its buyer's discontents and a clever cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parishioners no longer care as they abandon themselves to temptation with unforeseen results.

Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, and Johnny Depp star in this box office hit, released in 2000.

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An Army of Angels: A Novel of Joan of ArcS

By Pamela Marcantel

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The full story of a peasant girl named Jhanette who, at the age of thirteen, is visited by a saint and told she will be the savior of France paints a fascinating, richly detailed portrait of both Joan of Arc and the medieval Europe in which she lives.

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