10 of the best novels to transport you to France (2023)

I’ve written about France for The Guardian for more than a decade and have been visiting for longer: since my days as a teenage au pair and later a language student. I love it mainly for its food and wine, but also for its combative attitude to politics, its love of good living, elegant cities and variety of land- and seascapes. We can still visit it through the pages of literature. So, here are my personal top 10 novels that give une véritable saveur of the country almost nine million British people visited last year.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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This Pulitzer-prize-winning novel seems tailor-made for these days. The title refers to a teacher’s comment in the book about how our brains, locked in our skulls without a spark of light, build for us a luminous world. And today we, in lockdown, can rebuild in our imaginations 1940s Paris and the “open-air fortress” of Saint-Malo. We do this partly through the mind of young Marie-Laure, blind since she was six, who finds her way using scale models her brilliant father builds for her. Characters in the occupied Brittany town come to life, and readers’ hearts go out to Marie-Laure and young German counterpart Werner as they confront a world of hate and horror with grace and integrity

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

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Némirovsky, a French writer of Ukrainian-Jewish origin, planned a sequence of five novels set in Nazi-occupied France. The first two, in tiny handwriting in a leather-bound notebook, survived her arrest and murder in Auschwitz. Preserved – but unread – by her daughter, they languished for six decades before being published in one volume in 2004. Suite Française offers an amazing backstory and an unflinching look at France and the French. The first part, Storm in June, deals with a cast of Parisians fleeing Paris as the Germans invade. However, the second part, Dolce, might evoke memories of stone-built small towns where we enjoy dinner and a summer stroll, but which we know would be a claustrophobic nightmare to live in – as the fictional town of Bussy is for Lucille, sharing a house with her resentful mother-in-law. The square where village girls are chatted up by soldiers could be the Place de la Mairie in a hundred villages from Normandy to Provence.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind

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This 1985 masterpiece takes us to a Paris very different from today’s City of Light. In 18th century France “there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women … Even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter.” Around this malodorous world prowls the gifted and abominable Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, with his “killer” sense of smell. Yet those familiar with the city’s first arrondissement can follow in their mind’s eye as he “so thoroughly smelled out the quarter between Saint-Eustache and the Hôtel de Ville that he could find his way around in it by pitch-dark night”. Grenouille later leaves Paris and makes his way south via the hills of the Massif Central. The book’s final chapters are played out a few miles from the Côte d’Azur – amid the lavender fields of the world’s perfume capital, Grasse.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

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10 of the best novels to transport you to France (4)

Set in modern-day Paris, this 2006 novel by a philosophy teacher will appeal to those in need of a dose of Gallic high culture, with an unlikely heroine in the form of supposedly dull concierge Renée. Echoing Jane Eyre’s “poor, obscure, plain and little”, Renée is “widowed, short, ugly and plump”, and as such feels she must hide her passion for philosophy and literature beneath a prickly exterior. So, while pretending to favour trash telly and junk food, she’s reading Proust and volumes of philosophy from the university library, watching arty films and cooking up refined dinners for her friend Manuela. There is a sharp eye for humour while it dissects French snobbery, the foibles of rich and poor, the purpose of art and much more, all the while wearing its intellectualism lightly.

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

Go on a literary French road trip with this black satire by the former Observer restaurant critic. The story sees diabolical narrator Tarquin (not his real name) – an anglophobe, francophile, inveterate snob and worse – driving from England to his house in Provence, with diversions through the cuisines of Normandy and Brittany. What he later terms his “gastro-historico-psycho-autobiographico-anthropico-philosophic lucubrations” are organised into seasonal menus. He warns early on that this “is not a conventional cookbook”. Here he is hosting a barbecue for his hapless victims: “A drop of basting juices fell from the sea bass and spluttered on the white charcoals. I could hear the not-quite subliminal tinkling of bubbles in our crystal champagne flutes. ‘Well now,’ I said. ‘This is very pleasant.’” Be not deceived, there is nothing pleasant about this delicious novel.

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

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This 1954 classic by a precocious 18-year-old takes us to the sun-drenched Riviera, where lazy and selfish 17-year-old Cécile is holidaying with her widowed father and his latest girlfriend. The bright light of summer goes hand in hand with shady morals, as Cécile plots with her older boyfriend to see off the new woman in her father’s life, one who would seek to curb her self-indulgence and even make her do a spot of schoolwork. It all goes horribly wrong, yet we are left in doubt as to whether flighty Cécile has learned anything from her first experience of tristesse. “I saw an exquisite pink and blue shell on the sea-bottom. I dove for it, and held it, smooth and hollow in my hand all the morning. I decided it was a lucky charm, and that I would keep it. I am surprised that I have not lost it, for I lose everything. Today it is still pink and warm as it lies in my palm, and makes me feel like crying.”

The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

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Taking the A11 towards Brittany and the Vendée, many holidaymakers stop at Chartres, with its cathedral, medieval houses and little bridges. Spend a happy few hours in this picturesque spot by the River Eure by diving into this almost fairytale by therapist-turned-novelist Vickers, whose books display a ‘“tenderness for misfits”. The protagonist is mysterious Agnès Morel, who cleans the cathedral each day and does odd jobs for folk living nearby – until an accidental encounter. The unravelling of her troubled past takes the reader to other historic French towns – Évreux, Rouen and Le Mans – before reaching its redemptive conclusion.

Jean de Florette by Marcel Pagnol

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The fierce sun of Provence beats down on this novel of country lives and intrigues. Indeed, those bright blue skies and cloudless days that many Britons travel south for feel like a curse for the eponymous, hunchbacked Jean, who attempts to raise crops and rabbits on his land, not knowing that scheming neighbours have contrived to block off his only source of water – but read sequel, Manon des Sources, to see everything – finally – turn out OK. The scents of Provençal herbs and descriptions of farmhouses perched on rocky outcrops with vertiginous views of the Med will bring back holiday memories.

Ripening Seed by Colette

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Endless summers in another destination popular with UK visitors – seaside Brittany – are evoked in this short coming-of-age story. Phil and Vinca have holidayed here with their respective families for as long as they can remember, enjoying sunny days, sandy limbs and “the frothy foam-scuds that danced powerlessly up to the edge of man’s dominion”. But now in their teens, they can neither slip back into childish ways nor find a new relationship. When a sophisticated older woman comes on the scene, the sharp airs and strong winds of that blustery Atlantic coast echo the pain of coming adulthood. (The ever-unconventional Colette was writing what she knew – having had a relationship with her teenage stepson, then married a man 16 years her junior.)

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène

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If you prefer gritty streets to rolling hills, this funny tale of immigrant life on a city housing estate by another precocious writer (Guène was 19 when this was published) will fit the bill. Imagine one of Jacqueline Wilson’s wisecracking heroines a little older, transplanted to north-east Paris. The narrator is 15-year-old Doria, living in a high-rise with her mother, her dad having gone back to Morocco to find a new, younger wife. Teachers are ineffectual do-gooders; her mum’s employer wide-rangingly racist. The book’s street argot is rendered into brilliantly believable urban English by translator Sarah Adams. A class nerd is called a “pizza-faced microbe, homosexual and total ego-trip”. The Muslim community are constantly saying inshallah – “But, thing is, you can’t ever know if God’s willing or not,” opines Doria. The city’s fine drizzle is “as if God were spitting on all of us”.

FAQs

What is the most beautiful book to read? ›

50 Must-Read Books with Gorgeous Writing
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. ...
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. ...
  • Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. ...
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison. ...
  • Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman. ...
  • Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.
29 May 2018

What is the best French book to read? ›

Five French books to read (even if you're not stuck at home)
  • Saga - Tonino Benaquista. ...
  • L a Vie devant soi (The Life Before Us) - Romain Gary. ...
  • Chanson Douce (Lullaby) - Leïla Slimani. ...
  • Huis clos (No Exit) - Jean-Paul Sartre. ...
  • Le petit Nicolas (Young Nicolas) - René Gosciny.

Where should I eat for the first time in Paris? ›

L'Ami Jean
  • View All Restaurants.
  • FTG (Frenchie To Go) 9 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris, France. ...
  • Miznon. 22 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France. ...
  • Holybelly 5. 5 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris, France. ...
  • Angelina Paris. 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France. ...
  • Caractère de Cochon. 42 Rue Charlot, 75003 Paris, France. ...
  • Breizh Café ...
  • Ober Mamma.

Where can I read in Paris? ›

The 8 Literary Spots in Paris Every Bibliophile Must Visit
  • Le Procope. Joe Sohm/Visions of AmericaGetty Images. ...
  • Comédie-Française. JACQUES DEMARTHONGetty Images. ...
  • The Bouquinistes on the Seine River. ...
  • Shakespeare and Company. ...
  • Café de Flore. ...
  • Maison de Victor Hugo. ...
  • Musée de la Vie Romantique. ...
  • La Closerie des Lilas.
18 Dec 2019

Which is the No 1 book in the world? ›

Top 100 best selling books of all time
RankTitleAuthor
1Da Vinci Code,TheBrown, Dan
2Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsRowling, J.K.
3Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneRowling, J.K.
4Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixRowling, J.K.
45 more rows

What is considered the greatest novel of all time? ›

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. First published in 1851, Melville's masterpiece is, in Elizabeth Hardwick's words, "the greatest novel in American literature."

What is one book everyone should read? ›

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. "The Diary of Anne Frank" by Anne Frank. "1984" by George Orwell. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling.

What is a well written book? ›

Sharp dialogue: Good books are filled with sharp, memorable dialogue. Bestsellers contain dialogue that advances the plot, demonstrates your characters' personalities, and adds texture to the world of your story.

Which author has the best writing style? ›

Ernest Hemingway is considered as one of the finest writers in literary history. Writing style wise, he has a very efficient and economical one.

Is it correct to say good read? ›

It is correct. Here read is used as a noun referring to the thing that is being read. Note that the noun can also mean the act of reading something. The two senses are similar enough that sometimes they are not distinguished.

What books should I read to improve my French? ›

The 8 Best Books To Learn French
  • Le Petit Prince. What better way to start our list of books to learn French than with Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). ...
  • Le Petit Nicolas. ...
  • Arsène Lupin, Gentleman cambrioleur. ...
  • Astérix et Obélix. ...
  • Tintin. ...
  • L'élégance du hérisson. ...
  • Le chat du rabbin. ...
  • Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran.
10 Dec 2018

Which living French writer is currently the most read? ›

1. Guillaume Musso. One of the most popular authors in France, Guillaume Musso has sold over 11 million copies of his novels worldwide, and his works have been translated into 34 languages.

What time is dinner in Paris? ›

Set eating hours are still firmly entrenched in French society. Lunch is generally served from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm, and most restaurants will serve dinner from 8 pm to 10 pm.

Can you drink tap water in Paris? ›

Paris tap water is considered safe to drink according to French, EU and international standards (WHO). Every day at the Eau de Paris research and analysis laboratories receive and record over 200 samples which divided among different chemical, organic chemistry, bacteriology, and corrosion departments.

What is Paris most famous restaurant? ›

1. Le Fouquet's. Open since 1899, the historic Le Fouquet's is a legendary spot in Paris, and famous for hosting the post-dinner celebrations of the César Awards ceremony for the last 40 years.

Where do writers hang out in Paris? ›

Top 10 Literary Haunts in Paris: Famous Writers' Favorite Spots
  • 01 of 10. La Closerie des Lilas. ...
  • 02 of 10. Jardin du Luxembourg. ...
  • 03 of 10. Cafe Tournon, Haunt of James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Others. ...
  • 04 of 10. Shakespeare and Company Bookhop. ...
  • 05 of 10. Les Deux Magots. ...
  • 06 of 10. Café de Flore. ...
  • 07 of 10. ...
  • 08 of 10.
26 Jun 2019

What famous writers lived in Paris? ›

Paris also was home to major expatriate writers from around the world, including Henry James, Ivan Turgenev, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Leopold Senghor, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Milan Kundera and Henry Miller.

What is the name of 10 famous book? ›

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

What is the most selling book? ›

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, having sold around 5 billion copies to date. The book had several authors and can be roughly divided into two parts: The Old Testament and the New Testament.

Who is the best novelist in the world? ›

Top 10 Best Novelists of All Time
  • #1 MARY ANNE EVANS.
  • #2 JANE AUSTEN.
  • #3 CHARLES DICKENS.
  • #4 J.D. SALINGER.
  • #5 MARK TWAIN.
  • #6 ERNEST HEMINGWAY.
  • #7 GEORGE ORWELL.
  • #8 VIRGINIA WOOLF.
20 Mar 2021

Who is the #1 best-selling author? ›

Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)

Dame Agatha Christie currently holds the title of the world's best-selling novelist, according to Guiness World Records, as well as the most-translated author in history.

Is Pride and Prejudice a hard read? ›

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a classic novel you must read at least once in your life. Despite being 200 years old, the language isn't too dated or hard to read. Austen is very funny with her characters and always gives them satisfying endings.

Do books change your life? ›

It helps us relate to other people and encourages us to be kind and considerate of other people's feelings. As it turns out, reading can actually help improve empathy. When people read stories about other people's lives, it helps them develop the skills to understand the world through another person's perspective.

What do I need to know before going to France? ›

General Tips for Travelling to France
  • France is not just Paris. France doesn't begin and end in Paris! ...
  • Geographically interesting. ...
  • Travel off-season for a better experience. ...
  • Getting cash from the ATM is cheaper. ...
  • Cash is king. ...
  • Always keep your ID on you. ...
  • Courtesy is key. ...
  • The French aren't rude – Unless you are.
12 Jun 2020

How much French do I need to know to visit Paris? ›

No, you don't need to be fluent in French to communicate with Parisians, but knowing the basics will make a huge difference. Download Duolingo and get ready to put on your best French accent. The big four: "bonjour" (hello), "au revoir" (goodbye), "s'il vous plait" (please), and "merci" (thank you).

What book is the Paris trip in Heartstopper? ›

Heartstopper (Volume 3)

Not being out to their classmates gets even harder during a school trip to Paris.” During this Paris trip, not only do Nick and Charlie's feelings become more serious, they have challenges to face than ever.

How should I dress in France? ›

You'll see a red dress or yellow top, but not plaid on plaid or a full pink look. During the day, you can't go wrong with stylish jeans, nice sun dresses and classic jackets. French women love a blazer day or night. Same with a button down shirt, pretty and simple blouses and cozy, chic sweaters.

Do you tip in France? ›

Tipping in Restaurants and Cafés

You are not required to tip waiters/waitresses. A 15% service fee is automatically included in ALL cafés, restaurants, bars, etc. as part of the price of each item (not on top of the total). Servers in France get salaries, paid vacations, health care, and living wages.

Is it OK to speak English in Paris? ›

Is It Rude to Speak English in Paris? While speaking English, in Paris, is not considered rude, expecting every French person to speak French will surely be seen as such. To avoid a cold reaction from the other party, it will always be appreciated to start the conversation with a simple sentence in French.

What are the basic French words? ›

Learn Some Common French Words
  • Bonjour = Hello, Good morning.
  • Au revoir = Goodbye.
  • Oui = Yes.
  • Non = No.
  • Merci = Thank you.
  • Merci beaucoup = Thank you very much.
  • Fille = Girl.
  • Garçon = Boy.

How much English is spoken in Paris? ›

Yes, you can speak English in Paris as most people in Paris speak the language. However, while you can simply get by with just English in Paris, have an interest and put in efforts to know French to a decent extent.

What book does Nick and Charlie go to Paris? ›

Carry on.” This is the third volume of Heartstopper, the story of Nick and Charlie. In this, they take a trip to Paris, deal with a lot of judgement, struggle with coming out and having some serious relationship conversations.

Should I read this winter or Nick and Charlie? ›

They can be read in any order. Start with the one that interests you the most from the blurb! This Winter and Nick and Charlie are spin-off novellas from Solitaire and Heartstopper, but can still be read and enjoyed even if you haven't read those books.

Do Elle and Tao get together? ›

This eventually passes over and the two reconcile, and Tao's mental health improves after he and Elle begin dating.

What is the most visited place in Paris? ›

1. Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel) ranks high on the list of places to visit in France and is the most-visited tourist attraction in the world.

What is the nickname for Paris? ›

Paris is no stranger to nicknames, 'Lutèce', 'Paname', 'Pantruche' and even 'the City of Light'.

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