In sorting through the books set in France we have on the main site, I couldn’t help but notice how many of those novels were to do with art or artists. It makes sense though – one of the first things to pop into your mind when you think of France (after the Eiffel Tower, champagne and berets of course) is bound to be something to do with art. Maybe the Louvre, or an artist (perhaps with a beret!) painting someone’s portrait in Montmartre, or even Monet’s famous painting of his bridge at Giverny.
So – there’s no point in resisting.
If you are going to Paris there’s a good chance that you are going to come across art in some way or another. So, the best thing to do is to arm yourself with a load of novels that will immerse you in the art world of the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) and by the time you arrive in Paris you will know more that you could possibly imagine about the art on offer when you get there. You’ll probably know a fair bit about the streets of Montmartre as well!
So here it is.
A list of eight novels set in France about French art and artists
Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner The story of a young ballerina at Paris’ Opera Ballet modeling for the Impressionist painter Edger Degas.
Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell Fictionalised version of the relationship between artist Claude Monet and his muse Camille.
I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto When John Singer Sargent’s portrait of socialite Virginie Gautreau was shown in Paris 1884, it caused a scandal.
Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick Artist Vincent Van Gogh’s descent into madness through the eyes of the prostitute Rachel.
Cezanne’s Quarry by Barbara Corrado Artist Paul Cezanne is caught up in the mystery surrounding the murder of a mysterious young woman in Aix-en-Provence.
Depths of Glory by Irving Stone The story of Camille Pissarro one of the main figures of the Impressionist movement.
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriett Scott Chessman The story of Lydia, whose sister Mary was at the center of the Impressionist movement in Paris.
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland Focuses on one of Renoir’s instantly recognizable masterpieces, and imagines the story arounds its creation.
It’s a delightful mix of novels that blend fact and fiction to make the art and artists of the time come alive, forever changing how you look at their work. And what’s even better is the way the same characters appear in lots of the different books – you will feel like a member of the Impressionist family yourself if you manage to read all of these. I am certainly planning on giving it a good go. Why not join me?
P.S. If you’d like to delve beyond the art world, see what other books set in France we have discovered.
To give it a try, visit the France page, look over to the right and you will see that the fiction category has been divided into several places to choose from, such as the Riviera, the Loire Valley and of course Paris.
As you might expect, the vast majority of books are set in Paris – almost 50 so far. There are books in which Paris is almost a character itself, like Foreign Tongue by Vanina Marsot, and there are classics like Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.
If you are looking for something a little lighter, you could try A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke or Blame it on Paris by Laura Florand. And if crime novels are your thing, then most of the wonderful Chief Inspector Adamsberg mysteries are set in Paris. Just think, with so many to choose from – you could read a book a week and still find yourself in Paris after nearly a year!
We are really keen to build up our selection of novels set OUTSIDE of Paris – so would love to hear your suggestions. Do you know of any books set on the Riviera or in the French countryside that we don’t have listed? Let us know in the comments.
If you don’t mind where in France your next book comes from, then just stick with the general France Fiction category. ALL the books are there, along with those that don’t have a specific location. And please feel free to let us know if we have inadvertently put a book in the wrong category – we are always grateful for you keeping us on our toes in this respect!
That’s it. Get yeself off to France immediately…It’s summertime, the champagne is flowing……
Packabook ventured into uncharted territory this week with a guest post at a parenting website. Parents read, right? You know – all that time they have when the kids are sleeping?
Ok – so we are being a little provocative….
See for yourself at The Parenting Myth, a great blog for those Moms and Dads who want a bit of brutal honesty and humor mixed in with the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaaahhs’ of parenthood.
As you can imagine, a site like Packabook requires a LOT of reading (oh what a chore….) but even for someone like me, who looks forward to a long bus trip because it comes with uninterrupted reading time, it is impossible to read ALL the books I want to. And when that happens – I need to call in the help of our readers.
In searching for books set in Egypt, I came across the Amelia Peabody detective novels by Elizabeth Peters. We first meet Peabody in 1884 when she sets off on a tour of classical sites after a large inheritance. This parasol-wielding Victorian feminist soon finds herself in Egypt. When she becomes involved in an attempted kidnapping she sets out to solve the mystery, and thus begins a series of books that now number more than 20. We become embroiled in Amelia’s adventures, romances and family sagas and learn a whole lot about ancient Egypt along the way.
Now when I start reading a series of novels I want to finish them…and much as I’d quite happily be emerged in Peabody novels for the next three years, I thought it would be far more advisable if I brought in an expert. Lindsay Griffiths is a self-confessed Peabodyaholic and she helps me get to the bottom of her fascination with this feisty heroine.
There are A LOT of Amelia Peabody books. How many have you read? All of them, with the exception of the latest one – but I just added it to my iBooks reader on the iPad and hope to finish it before the end of my latest business trip!
What first attracted you to them? When I was in high school, we got a list of books for summer reading – one of Elizabeth Peters’ other titles was on there (Night Train to Memphis). I loved it and read all of the modern ones I could get my hands on. I’ve never enjoyed books from earlier time periods, so I was reticent to pick up any of the Amelia Peabody books. But there was one day I was so desperate to read something else that Peters had written, that I gave in and bought one. Fortunately, she’d written so many by that point, because I was immediately hooked and read the rest.
Do you feel you ‘get to know’ Egypt by reading these books? I feel I get to know Egypt in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s but not necessarily as it is now. It is a rather romantic portrait of the country, so I do feel as though I wish I were there at that time!
Does it make you want to go to Egypt? Yes, definitely – most anyone who knows me knows of my wish to go to Egypt and cruise along the Nile. I haven’t been yet though – but I’m encouraging my fascination by recently visiting the King Tut exhibit in New York City and researching the Smithsonian’s Egyptian tour.
What is it about Amelia Peabody that you like? She’s plucky, resourceful and sure of herself. She really knows who she is and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about her or her decisions. She knows she isn’t perfect, but makes the most of her assets instead of worrying about her flaws.
It is often the case with a series of books like this that you enjoy the first few and then your interest tapers off, is that the case with the Peabody books? Not at all – I was very excited to find out that there was a new book out. Also, I’m never one to re-read a book. Ever. But with the Peabody series, I enjoy them so much that I’ve just started reading them again. I’ve been reading them for probably about ten years, so I’ve forgotten what happens in the earlier ones – plus, I always feel that when enough time passes in your life, you’re reading them from a different perspective, so they will have different meaning to me now.
What would you say to any readers thinking about reading the Peabody books and embarking on what, you must admit, is a pretty serious commitment ? Do it. They’re a fast and enjoyable read and Peters writes the characters in such a way that you’re really drawn in and invested in what happens to them. They become like familiar old friends. Although I love the Peabody series, Elizabeth Peters’ other books are not to be ignored – they’re similarly excellent and enjoyable reads!
So there you have it! If you would like to embark on a Peabody journey then you will want to start with book number one Crocodile on the Sandbank and before long you will end up as big a fan as Lindsay.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out what other books set in Egypt we recommend.
The New Yorker’s selection of the best writers under the age of 40 has plenty to offer Packabook readers searching for stories set in foreign lands. Due to be released on Monday, the “20 under 40” list of fiction writers highlights those authors it believes are well worth watching in the years ahead. And the list is blessed with writers who come with heritages stemming as far afield as Ethiopia, Russia, Peru and the Balkans.
Nigerian-born Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is on my list of all-time reading highlights, doing exactly what we love at Packabook – revealing a story about a country and its history that we previously knew nothing about. This haunting novel is the story of two wealthy sisters during the time of the Nigerian-Biafran War of the late 1960’s.
Daniel Alarcon writes of a fictional South American country in his Lost City Radio combining elements of history from Peru, Argentina and Chile. And in his short story collection War By Candlelight the tales are mainly set in Peru – especially in the poorest areas of Lima.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is set in Ukraine and Yiyun Li’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is a collection of ten stories exploring the effects of China’s Cultural Revolution. While some of the stories are in America, most take place in small-town and rural China, a setting also explored in her novel The Vagrants.
Belgrade-born Tea Obreht’s debut novel The Tiger’s Wife is not due out until next year, but it will be set in a fictionalised Balkans.
The immigrant experience is also a popular topic for the writers on the list – from Salvatore Scibona’s novel The End which tells of Italian immigrants in Cleveland, Ohio, to Dinaw Mengetu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, the story of an Ethiopian grocery store owner who fled his country after seeing his father murdered by soldiers during a 1974 military coup.
So now you have a head start on the writers expected to influence our literary culture over the next ten years, there’s not much else to do except grab one or two of their books and start reading. We’ll be joining you…
P.S. Make sure you keep up to date with all the latest Packabook suggestions by joining our mailing list – you’ll receive the blog posts and be able to take part in our One Country One Book journey around the world….