Not far from where I live is the Chateau de Voltaire, where the great man lived for about 20 years, when he was banished from Paris and Geneva for his inability to put up and shut up. Voltaire was also imprisoned twice in the Bastille, so today’s celebrations of the Fall of the Bastille would have gladdened his heart. I hope the weather holds and the fireworks, dancing, music and theatre will take place as planned in the grounds of his estate. He would have rejoiced to see children playing, couples flirting and sipping champagne, poetry being recited down the shadey paths. After all, he is not only the champion of social justice, tolerance and anti-mumbo-jumbo, but also the man who said:
Let us read and let us dance – two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.
If you are an admirer of French philosophy and literature and want to celebrate the 14th of July with fiction, here are some recently-released English translations or novels set in France which you might enjoy. It has often been said that French literature and French films are an acquired taste for English-speaking audiences, but the mix below is a really painless introduction:
1) Sylvie Granotier: The Paris Lawyer
Sylvie Granotier is a former actress now turned full-time writer of thrillers, well-respected in France. You can find a full review of this interesting, atypical crime fiction novel on the Crime Fiction Lover website.
2) Fred Vargas
This is the pseudonym of a French historian and archaelogist and I have probably mentioned her before (and will do again). Her crime fiction books are always surprising, unusual, with historical and supernatural element, always unsettling me (in a good way). She has two series – the Commissaire Adamsberg that more closely resemble police procedurals, and the Three Evangelists, about three friends who share a house. If you don’t mind reading books out of order, then ‘Seeking Whom He May Devour’ and ‘Have Mercy on Us All’ are probably good ones to start with.
3) Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Silver Tongue
A debut novel by a Welsh/Canadian writer but set on the Côte d’Azure, this is a delightful cosy mystery and romp through pâté de foie gras and champagne for breakfast, cross-cultural misunderstandings and glamorous locations. I will have a full review of it next week on the Crime Fiction Lover website.
4) Janet Hubbard: Champagne- The Farewell
Another one for foodie and drink fans, this is essentially manor house mystery set in the Champagne region of France. When an attractive French magistrate and a dynamic NYPD detective find themselves thrown together to solve a murder at a mutual friend’s wedding, sparks are bound to fly!
5) Muriel Barbery: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
This has been a runaway bestseller in France since it first came out in 2006, but the English translation has not done as well. It is a controversial book, with not much in the way of plot, except the friendship between the concierge of an apartment building and a twelve-year old girl, both alienated, over-sensitive souls. It’s the kind of book you either love or you hate, full of literary and philosophical allusions, yet not pretentious. Definitely worth a try!