With Bastille Day celebrated on 14th July, there seems no better time to share our amour of French fiction. From contemporary novels with more Gallic gusto than you can shake a baguette at, to stories that sparkle like a flute of fine Champagne, to philosophical classics that exude all the elegance of Dior couture, this collection is a testament to French literary invention through the centuries - a veritable feast of fictional va-va-voom, if you will.
Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour, Tristesse and A Certain Smile figure high among my personal French-authored favourites - powerful, edgy coming-of-age classics that are impossible to put down. Esteemed contemporary authors you may already be au fait with include the smart thought-provoker Marie Darrieussecq, and the often controversial Michel Houellebecq. Then there are great Gallic writers who deserve to be more widely known. Take Sylvie Germain, for example, a multi-award-winning author in her native France who possesses a unique ability to conjure human desires and needs in worlds that feel both fairy-tale-esque and elementally real.
I adore Antoine Laurain’s novels too. Fans of funny, off-the-wall fiction really should read Vintage 1954 - a surreal contemporary masterpiece in which a bottle of vintage Beaujolais triggers a time-travel experience during which Edith Piaf and Audrey Hepburn appear. Another personal favourite is In Paris With You, an enthralling, sophisticated psychological novel of young love and heartbreak - it radiates a distinctly French vibe.
Of course, France is a perennial source of literary inspiration for non-nationals too. George Orwell’s first published novel was set in Paris and London. Jean Rhys’s Good Morning Midnight stories exquisitely capture the seedy bars and hotels of 1930s Paris, while Joanne Harris’s Chocolat and its sequels have captured the hearts of millions of readers around the globe.
For feel-good Parisian charm try The Little Paris Bookshop and Paris for One and Other Stories. If gripping thrillers are more your thing, you might enjoy Lies Behind the Ruin, which sees a financially troubled British couple relocate to rural France - with near catastrophic results.
If you fancy sharing your love of French flair with the little readers in your life, A Walk in Paris is a beautiful picture book to read aloud. What’s more, it’s packed with pretty Parisian details to pore over. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (voted the best book of the twentieth-century in France, and one of the world’s most translated books) is a moving, magical, allegorical novella about what really matters that readers of 7+ (adults included) will fall in love with. Finally, for older readers (12+ through to adults), Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution is an emotionally-charged mystery that takes in the events of the French Revolution as the turbulent lives of two teenagers connect across centuries.