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whatever useless things that these hands have done." The previous quote is a line from a Leonard Cohen song, with the eponymous subject title. He's still, or more properly, back on the concert circuit, and was recently in Toulon, which, with a bit of longitude, could be considered far eastern Provence. Peter Mayle felt a similar longing, and in the beginning of his book, he described it thus: "We had talked about it during the long grey winters and damp green summers, looked with an addict's longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards..." Provence is hardly a secret; it is a destination of choice for the "au courant," starting with at least Caesar's troops, who might be granted a farm there for their retirement if they lived that long. Do you hear that, Veterans Administration?

Mayle, who is English, wrote this charming account of a year there in 1989. It has become a classic of sorts, with millions of copies now in print. Supposedly, the Japanese tour buses would weave through the narrow streets of Ménerbes so they could take a picture of his now renovated house. Mayle had been an advertising executive, managed to accumulate a few coins, "saw the light," chucked it all, and actually fulfilled his dream, and that of his wife, and perhaps the dog's also. Provence was no longer just a vacation destination; it became his home when he purchased one in the countryside, along the northern base of the Luberon massif. It is a year's account, commencing in January, with a chapter devoted to each month. The hardback version which I acquired shortly after it was originally published is warmly illustrated, with black and white sketches, by Leslie Forbes.

The "tongue" is reflected in perhaps 30% of the book; a loving description of the food, and the many meals prepared. It really IS different there... one can become obsessive, and discuss the ingredients and preparation of the next meal as one consumes the present one. And with the quality of the food (and wine!), it is possible to seemingly eat all the time, without gaining weight. Proust's post-prandial stroll has to be integrated into the routine, though. As a resident, he develops relationships with all sorts of French people that the tourist does not. Throughout the year, he relates his experiences with the construction workers renovating his house... which... as he admits, seems to be a universal condition. He had neighbors, all with their vested economic interests, like the farmer who leases his vineyard, as well as the crotchety recluse who is obsessed the German campers who buy only the bread. Nonetheless, he is still hoping for the big payout, when he sells his rundown, dark house for a fortune. And then there is the issue of your house guests! As Mayle recounts, a lot of long-lost acquaintances suddenly become your best friend when you have Provençal accommodations. But then there is September, and the joys of a non-tourist Provence returns. A few reviewers have accused Mayle of being a "snob." I didn't see that at all; if anything just the reverse. In another funny anecdote, he relates being at a chic party with "tout les Parisiens," and he and his wife realize they have become the "country bumpkins."

It is hardly a comprehensive account of Provence. Missing are the lives of quiet desperation in the HLM's. It is only a slice of life in the Luberon, with the largest city ventured to being Aix. Seemingly he never makes it to Avignon, Arles or Marseille. The weekly markets are far more charming than the Hypermarchés that are so rapidly replacing them. Racial tension ? Religious concerns, all off the radar. But that was OK for me.

I first "discovered" Provence in the same year, 1989, renting gîtes on a long-term basis, and that is one reason his book so strongly resonates. I was also in Auzet's boulangerie in Cavaillon in 1995, and had a French TV camera shoved in my face. The book had just been translated into French. "Had I come to Auzet's, which is in Mayle's book, because I had read about it there?" No, not actually, my purpose that day was a bit more complicated, like buying a large patisserie for the nurse's in Avignon who had taken care of my mother. And I'd been coming here prior to the book.

Mayle's book remains a quintessential guide to an essential slice of life in southern France. I have had that "longing" of late, and the re-read whet the appetite rather than satiating it. The next two lines of Leonard's song are equally appropriate. Though he was obviously talking about a woman, and that is one charming aspect of Provence, the lines also apply to the entire experience: "And everyone one who wanted you, they found what they will always want again." 5-stars, plus.
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on 30 June 2010
This love -letter to Provence, written in the late eighties, is still very readable. You can practically feel the sun on your back, and believe you are tasting with Peter Mayle the glorious range of food and wine across the seasons.

A Year In Provence spent a long time, deservedly, at the top of the best- seller list when it was first published. It also had many imitators, but none came anywhere near to equalling it.

The book has shrunk to only 4 stars now in my estimation because it has dated a little, through no fault of the author's. Technology has galloped ahead since the book was written, making the book a pre-internet period piece.

Nevertheless, if you are heading for the South of France, read this to put you in the mood.
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on 15 June 2003
A Year in Provence ... Peter Mayle is a master of wit in this book. He seems to effortlessly bring his characters to life with their amusing quirks and behaviours. It is a very witty account of the problems Mayle encountered trying to get settled in the new country - trying to adapt and be accepted. This really is one of my laugh out loud books, and I would recommend it as such. Most countries/cultures have a few funny little quirky behaviours, that can be considered amusing if you can step back and see the funny side of life. If you can approach this book with that view in mind, and light-heartedly enjoy the diversity of cultures and their customs/ behaviours, you will indeed enjoy and appreciate this book.
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on 8 August 2009
This book was first published in 1989 and I've been late getting to it. I read it this summer in the south of France. I was staying in a very quiet rural village - perhaps what the towns in Provence were at the time of Peter Mayle's writing. The book is set out in 12 chapters , one per month. So it covers the full seasons - from cold winter snows, to the mistral winds and the glorious summers. There are some good laughs in the book - particularly renovating the house. I enjoyed his descriptions of the food and his trips to various vineyards to purchase wine.
As a female reader , I would have like to have gotten to know his wife a little better - although mentioned throughout the book I didn't feel I got to know her well.
Overall, hugely enjoyable.
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on 20 May 2002
I could not put it down it was very funny and has introduced me to his other books. Despite what some other reviews might say it is not a poke at the French people. It is very obvious that Mayle is in love with the people and the country.
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on 28 March 2002
This is not a high-brow expose of French culture, but rather a pleasent account of a man and his wife doing what I wish I could, moving permanently to a quiet French village.
It's obvious that Peter Mayle is not short of a few pounds as he seems able to afford all rennovations to his house (any-one wishing to read an account of pennyless people moving to a foreign country should read 'Extra Virgin' by Annie Hawes) but this is not a DIY book either.
Peter Mayle has an effortless way to make his writing feel like a long letter to a friend.
You will not discover any ground breaking revelations here but, as one who spends time with an adopted continental family, I recognised many of the quirks which Peter Mayle describes (and my continental partner did not find it in the least offensive either). If you dont have a funny bone, dont read this book.
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on 15 October 2011
A Year in Provence

I bought this book following my first holiday in Provence, although not in the bit covered by the book. My impressions of the area were of the light, the pace of life, the food and the sun (it was September when I went).

This book does give you an idea of the pace of life there, and, there is no shortage of food mentions, but I felt as though I was missing something. There is no doubt that a holiday and actually living in a country are not the same, but I am not sure I got a good impression of what it would be like to live there. The book seems to revolve around the work done (when the workmen are not off doing something else) on their house, trips for food and dealing with an influx of visitors from the UK. What I think is missing is an overall feel of the place though.

Some of the descriptions that the author gives of his neighbours and their interactions with them are witty, and the reader is left in no doubt about the warmth and generosity of the people described. However, I found the book a little lacking in substance and therefore a little dull, even though it is well written.

An easy read (I read it on a business trip), but not unmissable.
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on 13 March 2014
I really enjoyed this book. I remember vaguely some of the hype around it at the turn of the 90's but as I was only about ten I had no real interest in it at the time. I decided to watch the TV adaptations -staring John Thaw - on YouTube recently, which were good enough to make me want to read the book and I'm glad I did. It's much much better than the TV shows - Peter Mayle has a great sense of humour (lost in the TV versions) and the joke is just as often on him as on the colourful characters he meets in each chapter. His observations, although funny, clearly emanate from a place of deep affection, fondness and respect for the eccentricities of his new community and friends, of which there are many. The way in which he describes everything from the food to the weather to the people themselves is excellent - he creates a vivid image in your mind as though you were there. I've been to France loads of times and have some family in the south and although I've been to Provence as a child I'd really like to go again to see how much has changed and how much of the Provence in the pages of this brilliant book remain in the 25 years since its release.
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on 4 November 2008
This book provides a very intimate view of the author's experiences during his first year of living in Provence in the southeastern part of France. Most of the experiences represent the every day ones we all go through e.g. hiring someone to do work on our house, meeting neighbors through a party, etc. However, the people in Provence have a decidedly different perspective and character, and thus these ordinary experiences appear strange, fascinating and entertaining. This effect comes in part from Mr. Mayle's wit, writing style and emotional reactions to the events of his life. I particularly liked his description of the dress (leather), method of arrival (motorcycle) and behavior and attitudes of students coming into a certain town-absolutely precious. As with the French, food and drink in a Mayle book take an exalted status.
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on 23 April 2012
Peter Mayle's highly successful series of books based on his settling down in Provence make very easy, unchallenging reading - just the thing for a long journey or confinement to bed. This is the first and best known of the series which sets the standard - self-indulgent, yes, but it catches nicely the character of rural Provence.
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