7 novels in English about French towns - does yours feature?

France is a popular setting for fiction, with a particular focus on wartime writing

Kate Mosse’s Carcassonne, Kristin Harmel’s Champagne and Anthony Doerr’s Saint Malo, do they depict reality?
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The foreign but familiar towns of France are frequently depicted through the literary lens. Here are seven novels set in seven places in France.

The backdrops vary, sometimes it is the Second World War, providing a glimpse of what life was like for people in the country at the time.

Others, set in the chic and enigmatic interwar years, are suited to crime aficionados searching for their next hit of adrenaline and je ne sais quoi.

Are any of these places near you? What do you think about their portrayal?

All the light we cannot see - Saint Malo

American author Anthony Doerr’s novel is set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Protagonist Marie Laure Leblanc is whisked away to the Breton town of Saint Malo after Paris is occupied by the Nazis.

There she meets Werner Pfennig, a German boy who has been accepted into military school due to his skills in radio technology.

The city of Saint Malo was heavily bombed during the war, and had to be almost entirely reconstructed.

Concerning his choice to set the story in Saint-Malo, Doerr said he was very interested in “a place that could so thoroughly hide its own incineration”.

The Languedoc Trilogy- Carcassonne

Kate Mosse’s trilogy showcases Carcassonne, with all of the novels set in the city.

Jumping back and forth hundreds of years between the 19th Century and contemporary France, the stories are historical mystery thrillers.

The author said Carcassonne has the “landscape of her imagination”, a place where “there are vibrant stories of the past being whispered in the landscape and just waiting to be told”.

The Winemaker’s Wife - Champagne

Author Kristin Harmel sets the novel in the vineyards of Champagne during the Second World War.

It tells the story of Inès, who has just married Michel, owner of the prestigious Champagne house, Maison Chauveau.

Their tale offers a bleak insight into wartime France and the efforts of the Resistance in the region as Michel tries to hide people escaping the Nazis.

Read also: 16 things you can at the library in France apart from borrow books

The Second Worst Restaurant in France - near Poitiers

Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall Smith’s novel is part of his Paul Stuart series.

Stuart, a renowned Scottish cookbook writer, arrives in France and quickly settles in, making friends with the locals as he tries to take a restaurant to new heights.

The Scottish author wrote the novel after spending a few weeks in a hamlet near Poitiers, getting all the local gossip from friends who lived there, which he could then use as inspiration.

The Fleur de Sel Murders - Guérande

Set in Brittany along the Guérande Peninsula, the novel is part of a series by Jean Luc Bannalec, an author who splits his time between Germany and Finistère.

In 2016 he was awarded the Mécène de Bretagne and since 2018 he has been an honorary member of the Académie Littéraire de Bretagne.

The novels follow Commissaire Dupin, a detective investigating mysteries and discovering the secrets of old Breton legends.

My friend Maigret - Porquerolles, Hyères

Written by Belgian author Georges Simenon, the detective novel was translated into English by Shaun Whiteside.

It is set in the town of Porquerolles on the Hyères islands off the Côte d’Azur and forms part of the Maigret series of novels, which are often set in Paris.

In this instalment, a British detective joins Maigret to inspect the French approach to fighting crime.

The pair jet off to the sunny south coast to investigate a suspicious murder.

Bonjour Tristesse - La Riviera

A French classic that offers fairly easy reading for those wanting to work on their language skills, although translations are widely available.

Set on the French Riviera and written by then 18-year old Françoise Sagan, it is a coming of age story about 17 year old Cécile who spends the summer in her father’s villa.

Against the backdrop of a 50s Côté d’Azur, we see a glimpse of the seemingly idyllic villa life and the less idyllic lives of those who inhabit them.

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