A Good Year by Peter Mayle
I came to know about Peter Mayle and his Francophilia while I was working at Full Circle Bookstore, Khan Market (more of that later). Being an admirer of the beautiful region of the South of France, I found the idea of reading something written by a British expatriate living in France very appealing. Occupied with Rabindranath Tagore’s Home and the World for a while, I completely forgot about it until I stumbled upon A Good Year at the Alliance Française library.
A light read, A Good Year is about a 30-something Londoner, Max Skinner, discouraged by a failed career and marriage, and how his life changes when he receives the news of the death of his uncle in France. Being Uncle Henry’s sole living relative, he has inherited a mansion and vineyard in the (fictional) village of Saint-Pons near Luberon. Encouraged and financially supported by his amateur wine-connoisseur friend Charlie, Max sets out on a journey to Provence where he discovers that his uncle’s wine is no better than “pipi de chat”. He tries to befriend Claude Roussel, much like a giant with a soft heart, who has tended the vineyard and taken care of Max’s uncle; the seductive Maître Nathalie Auzet, whose intentions are not as noble as they seem; Fanny, the flirtatious owner-waitress of a restaurant whom Max finds himself attracted to and a Californian mademoiselle, who unknowingly becomes a threat to Max’s future. Little does he know that a bigger surprise and scandal await him at the end of the vineyard.
Pleasant and warm, A Good Year is perfect for those looking for a short trip to Provence on a lazy summer afternoon. It is interesting how Mayle talks about the ridiculously high prices of Bordeaux wine, bought not for drinking and savouring, but as an investissement. I am doubtful whether this is Mayle at his best as a storyteller. The twists and turns are a bit cold and predictable, the picturesque descriptions of French rural life doing their best to subdue all monotony. But then, Mayle’s reputation is not that of a tale-spinner but someone who knows how to pen down the subtle flavours of food and wine like a gourmet without seeming pretentious. Mayle paints an idyllic, oddly perfect picture of rural France, quiet at an instant and festive at the other, with its smug cafés and smiling strangers, making you yearn to be out there. Full of cinematically perfect scenes, for the first time in my life I felt while reading that a film would do better justice to a tale like this. (It’s only later I found out that A Good Year has already been made into a film). This made the experience slightly dreary.
Cependent, Mayle’s many works on the South of France are still on my reading this, particularly A Year in Provence which chronicles his life as a British expatriate in Provence. I hope his other fictions have a little more thrill to offer. Let’s see what Provence has in store.