Posts Tagged With: France

Monsieur Montespan by Jean Teulé

Title: Monsieur Montespan
Author: Jean Teulé
ISBN: 978-1906040307
Publisher: Gallic Books
First Published: February 2011
No. of Pages: 302

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
The Marquis de Montespan and his new wife, Athénaïs, are a true love-match – a rarity amongst the nobility of seventeenth-century France. But love is not enough to maintain their hedonistic lifestyle, and the couple soon face huge debts. When Madame de Montespan is offered the chance to become lady-in-waiting to the Queen at Versailles, she seizes this opportunity to turn their fortunes round. Too late, Montespan discovers that his ravishing wife has caught the eye of King Louis XIV. As everyone congratulates him on his new status of cuckold by royal appointment, the Marquis is broken-hearted. He vows to wreak revenge on the monarch and win back his adored Marquise. With this extraordinary novel, Jean Teulé has restored a ridiculed figure from history to the rightful position of hero, by telling the hilarious, bawdy and touching story of a good man who loved too well and dared challenge the absolute power of the Sun King himself.

Based on the true story of the husband of the most celebrated mistress of Louis XIV, this is a rip-roaring romp through the reign of the Sun King. I found it difficult to feel sorry for the plight of the cuckolded husband, despite the fact that he raised such a scandal over the affair between the King and his wife, which most men of that time would have taken as a compliment and accepted the many honours, titles and money that would bring. Although I didn’t find sympathy for him, I did find I respected this much-maligned figure and his stance over his position.

It’s a well-researched and well-written novel that is both engaging and entertaining, with more than a little titillation between its covers as the exploits of Madame de Montespan, both with Louis XIV and her husband before him, are described with passion and humour. It’s well worth a read if you’re a fan of historical fiction with a little French flair.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Dressmaker by Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck

What a lovely book this is.  The main character is Claude Reynaud, a French dressmaker and designer, who lives in Senlis, about 30 miles outside Paris.  Claude is a man born years too late – he has not embraced modern design methods, or refuses to use computers or other modern conveniences in his work.  However, his attention to detail and his ability to intuit exactly what will suit his clients means that he is incredibly sought after dressmakers.

Claude is not a passionate man – indeed his passion seems restricted purely to his work, and to his four adored nephews.  However, he is unprepared for the day that his latest client, Valentine de Verlay arrives in his salon, for almost immediately, he knows that he will love this woman.  There is only one problem – he has to design and make Valentine’s wedding dress.

Suddenly the serious and mild manner Claude finds his own life – and that of Valetine’s – unravelling at the seams….

The writing in this book is beautifully descriptive and luscious.  Claude is a believable and sympathetic character, and while I found myself occasionally becoming angry with Valentine, I could really feel why Claude would love her.

I am a cynic when it comes to romantic books, and often deliberately avoid them.  This book however, is unashamedly romantic, but it is seductive and immensely readable, although I would add that while not it would probably appeal more to a female audience.  Claude may not be a typical hero type, but he is certainly a character who the reader can admire and root for.


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The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart

Poor Guillaume Ladoucette. He has been an excellent barber for his small French town for twenty years. But now he has a problem. Well, two problems, really. The population of the town has not changed much over the years. It stands, in fact, at thirty-three. (That includes the pharmacist who has been missing since the mini-tornado of 1999.) The population’s hair is aging. You know what happens to aging hair. That’s right, it falls out. Some of Guillaume’s customers are going bald!
To make matters worse, a new snazzy barber has set up shop in a neighboring town and some folks have been lured away by the fashionable haircuts that he is offering. Guillaume feels that he must remain true to conventional barbering wisdom and not be swayed by popular attitudes. But the fact remains, he has almost no customers left. What is he to do?
He decides to make a clean break. Start over in an entirely new profession. Despite his own bachelor status and his inability to proclaim his feelings to the woman he has been in love with his entire life, he decides what the town needs most is a matchmaker. And he’s the man for the job. He tears the sink out of his shop and, after a quick makeover, re-opens his shop as “Heart’s Desire”.
Unfortunately, business is a bit slow at the start. Prospective clients looking for love are matched up with people that they are already VERY familiar with. It is a small town, people have already formed opinions about each other, getting them to change is difficult. Things aren’t going so well for Guillaume. Then, suddenly, he seems to have a success! The postman has found someone he really likes! Poor Guillaume, the woman in question turns out to be the same one he has been in love with his whole life. Now it looks like he will lose her forever, to the postman. Will he ever muster up the courage to admit his feelings?
What a fun book this is. It is witty and warm, filled with eccentric, endearing characters and fantastic descriptions of French food and pastries. It is a wonderful ‘cassoulet’ of a novel. Enjoy!
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C’est la Folie by Michael Wright.

One day in late summer, Michael Wright gave up his comfortable South London existence and, with only his long-suffering cat for company, set out to begin a new life. His destination was “La Folie”, a dilapidated 15th century farmhouse in need of love and renovation in the heart of rural France.In a bid to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a Real Man, he struggles to make the journey from clinically social townie to rugged, solitary paysan. Through his enthusiastic attempts at looking after livestock and coming to terms with the concept of living Abroad Alone, he discovers what it takes to be a man at the beginning of the 21st century.

Michael Wright has written a column about his exploits in La France in the Telegraph with much success and has now written a novel based on these adventures. The novel, C’est La Folie is a wonderfully candid description of his life in France, battling with the natives, and an ancient delapidated farm house, overgrown land, and the hilarious problems of animal husbandry. And…added to all that, we hear about his vintage aeroplane, his piano, his triumphs at the tennis club, and his attempts to socialise and become integrated into the french community.
He decided to up roots and take himself and his cat to France, in an attempt to ‘become a man’ and prove to himself that he could do ‘manly’ things. So, accordingly he recounts his desire to acquire manly tools, which might persuade him to do manly jobs, like the desperate work that needs doing on the farmhouse, just to make it habitable. As the story progresses, we hear him inwardly balking at the idea of chopping wood in the snow, and other manly tasks, yet he does them all, somehow sticking to his guns and proving he can do it, and enjoy it. He discovers he quite likes physical work, once he gets going, and such are the distractions of his new home, he finds no time or inclination to write his novel, (well…mainly because he can’t think how to start it off!)

This book is hilarious. I had the audio copy which is read by Michael Wright himself, and I have to say that even if it had been the most boring book, I’d have listened because his voice and story-telling skills are great. I loved the gentle humour, which popped up so often and so subtly at times that I found myself in danger of missing bits here and there. I loved the fact that there were half a dozen strong themes running throughout which made the stories all the more interesting, and most of all I loved this man’s honesty. He is so self-deprecating, and yet somehow manages to charm everyone, and learns quickly from his mistakes. We find that despite his assertions to the contrary he ia a very able person, and at the end of the book, he is able to realise this for himself and leave the crutches of the past behind and look to the future.
The animals played a major part in the story and the joys and grief as Michael learns about life in the raw are beautifully portrayed, and it would be a stone-hearted person who could shrug at the deaths of Emil the little sheep, or Mary the chicken.
I really enjoyed this book and will enjoy reading it again and hopefully the follow-up, which I believe is planned for release next year (2009). To those who have criticised it as not being a literary work…it isn’t meant to be, not in the sense of an heavy duty tome, but it is a literary work that recounts life and people in the 21st century and all the struggles, hopes, triumphs and loves that keep folk sane and able to get on with their lives. Whether you can relate to his lifestyle or not, you will be able to relate to the man and his steps towards knowing himself a little better, and becoming ‘manly’.
Susie / Kimmikat

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The House in the Forest – Michelle Desbordes


In her cottage in the French countryside, an old woman receives an unexpected visitor: a boy whispering in an unfamiliar language,and bringing sheaves of paper, in the letters and jottings of her youngest son. Sometime before – and not even the locals who relate the story can remember how long – her son had done as she had told him , and left to seek his fortune on a Carribean island. Once there, the promised wealth had disastrously eluded him – and now, not far from the old woman’s cottage, the locals see a mysterious stranger, with a boy and a dog, carrying planks into the woods to build a place to live…

“Désbordes seeks to show that there is no such thing as an ending, that-like life itself-stories repeat themselves…her writing resembles an extended poem with an incantory quality, like a French version of Eliot’s Four Quartets.”(Observer)

This book is probably very different from any other book you have read, and, it has to be said, will not be to everyone’s taste. When I began reading the first chapter, it was not long before I questioned myself. Did I really need to read this, or want to read it? It wasn’t the content that was the problem. It was the style of writing, which at first appears to be almost totally without punctuation. However, after persisting with it a while longer, I realised that this is the whole point of the book. The commentary from the locals that the critic from the Observer said resembled an incantory style, for me was more like the chorus in some of the Greek plays of the past. The voices tell the story from their perspective, but speculating all the time on the thoughts and feelings of the three main characters, the woman, her son and the young boy. Each voice is given a chance to describe what they see and understand, and you hear it all in a semi-jumbled form as if listening to a crowd of people all talking at once, randomly all telling the same story. The narrative is repetitious, and at first I found this tedious, but later enjoyed it, as I was intriqued to see how the author could say the same thing over and over, yet each time, alter or add something minutely, giving away a few more details, or changing the mood or tone of the narrative a little. This very clever style, for me, embodied the message of the story…that life, and all the stories, events and seasons are neverending. No one story ever ends completely before it is begun again, and then again, just as the winter never quite ends, but repeats year after year. Because of this, life and time itself merge into one long amorphous story, where humans become lost and entangled, losing individuality, and sense of purpose. The same things happen, the same questions are asked, and the same answers given. The same feelings are expressed, and the same opinions, but nothing changes, as everything is cyclical like the seasons and each life ends with the start of another.

The story is deceptively simple. The young man goes to seek his fortune in a foreign land, at the behest of his mother, is away for twenty or more years, but does not find the wealth he seeks and returns. He does not look for his mother, but builds a shack in a copse nearby and shortly afterwards succumbs to the illness which has stalked him persistantly throughout his journey home. Despite this outward simplicity, I found that there were many questions I wanted to ask. They had no proof that the man was who they thought he was. It was all supposition. There are lots of unanswered questions about his relationship with his mother. What had happened to the other sons? Why would a mother ask her son to do something like this in the first place? Many many questions arising from this short narrative, but which make us question are own beliefs about the world around us and our perception of it, and our perceptions about how others see it and respond to it. Is this indeed a story that has been repeated over the centuries, time after time, in many continents? Is it something that goes on all the time, but we lose sight of it in all the details of everyday life?

I really liked this book, but it did take me a couple of chapters to get into it and understand the authors style. Once I had grasped the concept I thorougly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author, whose debut novel La Demande (The Maid’s Request) was published to great critical acclaim. 

Susie 6/01/08


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