Five Novels Set in France

These five novels are set in France. Not all are written by French authors but all tell of some experience, either fictional or biographical, of living in France.

Muriel Barbery – The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of the main character Renee, a seemingly unassuming concierge of an elegant Paris building. She hides her true self from her tenants and thrives in her own secret world of philosophy and literature. The novel takes on a political aspect and studies the theme of class divides whilst at the same time showing the brightness and beauty that life has to offer.

Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast is a personal account of Hemingway’s memories of living in Paris as an as-yet-unknown writer. Hemingway nostalgically documents his life during the 1920s which involved much drinking and spending time writing in cafe La Closerie des Lilas. The novel provides accounts of other literary figures living in the area at the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

Jack Kerouac – Satori in Paris

Key Beat writer Jack Kerouac travels to France to learn more about his heritage in this 1966 novel. As with many of Kerouac’s novels it is also a journey of spiritual enlightenment and Zen Buddhism. In tracing his roots he comes across a variety of people and the tale is told in the familiar spontaneous prose style of Kerouac’s other works.

George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London

Orwell’s first published novel, the semi-autobiographical Down and Out in Paris and London provides a portrait of society’s poor in the two cities of the title. The first part of the novel tells of his time in Paris. In order to survive the narrator works long hours as a poorly paid dishwasher, whilst in London he faces poverty and lives with the homeless. The Paris section of the novel is based on his personal experiences in the city after a situation where, after having had his money stolen, he took on low paid menial jobs.

Patrick Suskind – Perfume

An eery tale, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an unwanted orphan with an incredible sense of smell but no personal odour of his own. This repulses other people and he in turn is sickened by them and their smells. He comes across a beautiful scent and finds that is it that of a young woman.

The novel shows the strength that scent has on emotions and how it influences others. Grenouille dedicates his life to preserving smells and this leads to the murder of young virgins to create a perfect scent that manipulates human emotions. Perfume takes a look at the perception of identity and how this affects human relationships.

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