One of the best things about this time of year is that it gives us the opportunity to catch up on our reading. For me, there’s nothing better than spending sun-kissed evenings sitting outside with a cup of tea and a good book. As we approach mid July, I thought it a good time to roll out a few of my favourite summer reads. To make the list a bit more fun, I have given it a theme. All of the books have a French focus. So, if you’re heading to le Midi this summer, be sure to power through these five first.
Published in 2006, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is surprisingly poignant and not to be approached with too much light-heartedness. With a surplus of academic references running throughout, it is no surprise that the author of the novel, Muriel Barbery, is a philosophy professor.
Set in Paris, this imaginative and ferociously French story follows the intriguing life of 54-year-old Renée – a short, ‘plump’ widow who is the concierge at number 7, Rue de Grenelle. On the surface, she is a plain, humble woman with little prospects, but underneath her dowdy disguise hides a true intellectual – capable of challenging the brightest of minds. Pop upstairs and a reader will find Paloma Josse, a complicated yet sharp adolescent who is battling against her privileged background, unable to accept her ‘rich’ family and even contemplating suicide. What will it take to bring these two soulmates together? They’re just floors apart but separated by a strong social barrier.
Despite her gloomy demeanour, there is something incredibly familiar and knowing about Camille, protagonist of Hunting and Gathering. Stuck in a freezing cold pokey attic in between nights working as a cleaner, she is almost down and out in Paris. With echoes of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, it’s down to a kindred spirit residing a few floors below to rescue her from her destitute situation and restore happiness in her life. But, the question is, who is this kindred spirit? Is it the person we are led to believe? The novel poses thought-provoking questions about relationships, family and – as the title suggests – what it means to survive.
If you’re a fan of Ernest Hemingway, you might want to check out The Paris Wife, a fictionalised version of his marriage to Hadley Richardson (his first wife). The novel begins in October 1920, Chicago, where the couple first meet and fall in love. Ernest is set on making “literary history” whilst 28-year-old Hadley is feeling particularly young and carefree. With excitement in the smokey air, the pair embark on a rapid romance that culminates in them exchanging vows. It isn’t until they move to Paris, where the Jazz Age is in full swing, that their feelings for one another are put to the test. A New York Times Bestseller, The Paris Wife is a gripping exploration of the correlation between love, family, success and ambition.
There is something irresistible about French style; delicate layers, baggy t-shirts, simple shoes, messy low buns, simple jumpers, jeans. It’s the collaboration of graceful yet striking that makes this country’s fashion sense really stand out for me. As somebody who cannot handle high heels, tight clothing or any form of intricate garments (not that there’s anything wrong with any of these things), I embrace the relationship of the French with clothing.
It is for this reason I am a big fan of Paris Street Style – a Guide to Effortless Chic. The book aims to enable readers to develop their own Paris street style with advice from a myriad of French fashion designers. With chapters ranging from “What is French style?” to “Denim for every day”, it is a lighthearted read, and one you can dip in and out of during your European jaunts. I don’t agree with everything inside this style guide, but it never fails to fuel my sartorial inspiration.
It doesn’t matter whether you can speak French or not, this book – tracing one of the most popular French magazine over the decades – is full of inspirational images.