Without a doubt, my most common request is for a list of books set in France. And it’s something I’ve avoided putting together for a long time. Tackling the world of French literature is a big task, and not an easy one at that. I’ve travelled extensively and read plenty of local literature there, but it still needed some serious research. C’est la vie! 🇫🇷
This list of books set in France is one of my longest yet and includes a wide range of titles; from classics through to contemporary works. The books are tied to France in a number of ways; some are set there, have characters from there, reflect the culture or are penned by French authors. With the aim of creating a diverse reading list, these novels capture a wide range of perspectives, from nationals and expats alike.
After endless hours of research to discover the books set in France that are the most well-known, often-read, highly-acclaimed, award-winning, controversial and little-known hidden-gems; the list was simplified to 100 notable titles. This list aspires to capture the diversity of France from a multitude of viewpoints. For ease of use, they have been organized below by year of publication.
I really hope you enjoy these books set in France; and are transported to the country through literature. If you have any further book recommendations or thoughts; please let me know in the comments below! 📚
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Books Set In France: The Shortlist
If you’re short on time, here are 10 notable picks from the much longer list below:
- The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola
- The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (as per the movie)
- Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
- The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
- The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (always love a book about books!)
- P.S. from Paris by Marc Levy
Books Set In France
by Voltaire, 1759
Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in ‘the best of all possible worlds.’ On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher’s immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that — contrary to the teachings of his distinguished tutor Dr. Pangloss – all is not always for the best.
Note: this book is set across Europe and Latin America, in both real and imagined places. It is included as it is considered a French classic.
Dangerous Liaisons (Les Liaisons Dangereuses)
by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, 1782
Published in 1782, just years before the French Revolution, Dangerous Liasons is a disturbing and ultimately damning portrayal of a decadent society. At its centre are two aristocrats, former lovers, who embark on a sophisticated game of seduction and manipulation to bring amusement to their jaded existences.
The Red and the Black
by Stendhal, 1830
Handsome, ambitious Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble provincial origins. Soon realizing that success can only be achieved by adopting the subtle code of hypocrisy by which society operates, he begins to achieve advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him into the heart of glamorous Parisian society, along the way conquering the gentle, married Madame de Rênal, and the haughty Mathilde.
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
by Victor Hugo, 1831
This extraordinary historical novel, set in Medieval Paris under the twin towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre-Dame, is the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation.
Old Man Goriot
by Honoré de Balzac, 1835
Monsieur Goriot is one of a select group of lodgers at Madame Vauquer’s Parisian boarding house. At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are reduced he is shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are two beautiful, mysterious young women. Goriot claims that they are his daughters, but his fellow boarders, including master criminal Vautrin, have other ideas.
The Three Musketeers
by Alexandre Dumas, 1844
This swashbuckling epic of chivalry, honor, and derring-do, set in France during the 1620s, is richly populated with romantic heroes, unattainable heroines, kings, queens, cavaliers, and criminals in a whirl of adventure, espionage, conspiracy, murder, vengeance, love, scandal, and suspense. Dumas transforms minor historical figures into larger- than-life characters.
The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas, 1844
In 1815 Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor who has just recently been granted the succession of his erstwhile captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If.
The Lady of the Camellias
by Alexandre Dumas Fils, 1848
One of the greatest love stories of all time, this novel has fascinated generations of readers. Dumas’s subtle and moving portrait of a woman in love is based on his own love affair with one of the most desirable courtesans in Paris.
Note: ‘Fils’ is French for ‘son’, Alexandre Dumas Fils was the son of Alexandre Dumas.
by Gustave Flaubert, 1856
Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent devourer of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment, and when real life continues to fail to live up to her romantic expectations, the consequences are devastating.
Note: this was also the French selection for the World Reading Challenge!
A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens, 1859
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
by Victor Hugo, 1862
Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean – the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread – Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.
The Ladies’ Paradise (Les Rougon-Macquart #11)
by Émile Zola, 1883
The Ladies Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) recounts the rise of the modern department store in late nineteenth-century Paris. The store is a symbol of capitalism, of the modern city, and of the bourgeois family: it is emblematic of changes in consumer culture, and the changes in sexual attitudes and class relations taking place at the end of the century.
by Guy de Maupassant, 1885
Young, attractive and very ambitious, George Duroy, known to his admirers as Bel-Ami, is offered a job as a journalist on La Vie francaise and soon makes a great success of his new career. But he also comes face to face with the realities of the corrupt society in which he lives – the sleazy colleagues, the manipulative mistresses, and wily financiers – and swiftly learns to become an arch-seducer, blackmailer and social climber in a world where love is only a means to an end.
Germinal (Les Rougon-Macquart #13)
by Émile Zola, 1885
The thirteenth novel in Émile Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart series, Germinal expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope. Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, in debt, and unable to feed and clothe their families.
by Henry James, 1903
Sent from Massachusetts by the formidable Mrs. Newsome to recall her son, Chad, from what she assumes to be a corrupt life in Paris, Strether finds his intentions subtly and profoundly transformed as he falls under the spell of the city and of his charge. He is quick to perceive that Chad has been not so much corrupted as refined, and over the course of the hot summer months in Paris he gradually realizes that this discovery and acceptance of Chad’s unconventional new lifestyle alter his own ideals and ambitions.
The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux, 1910
First published in French as a serial in 1909, The Phantom of the Opera is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully.
by Marcel Proust, 1913
Swann’s Way tells two related stories, the first of which revolves around Marcel, a younger version of the narrator, and his experiences in, and memories of, the French town Combray. Inspired by the “gusts of memory” that rise up within him as he dips a Madeleine into hot tea, the narrator discusses his fear of going to bed at night. He is a creature of habit and dislikes waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where he is. He claims that people are defined by the objects that surround them and must piece together their identities bit by bit, each time they wake up.
The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway, 1926
The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpieces, and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates.
Journey To The End of the Night
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1932
Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s revulsion and anger at what he considered the idiocy and hypocrisy of society explodes from nearly every page of this novel. Filled with slang and obscenities and written in raw, colloquial language, Journey to the End of the Night is a literary symphony of violence, cruelty and obscene nihilism.
The story of the improbable yet convincingly described travels of the petit-bourgeois (and largely autobiographical) antihero, Bardamu, from the trenches of World War I, to the African jungle, to New York and Detroit, and finally to life as a failed doctor in Paris, takes the readers by the scruff and hurtles them toward the novel’s inevitable, sad conclusion.
Down and Out in Paris and London
by George Orwell, 1933
This unusual fictional memoir – in good part autobiographical – narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-outs of two great cities. The Parisian episode is fascinating for its expose of the kitchens of posh French restaurants, where the narrator works at the bottom of the culinary echelon as dishwasher, or plongeur.
Tender Is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934
Set on the French Riviera in the late 1920s, Tender Is the Night is the tragic romance of the young actress Rosemary Hoyt and the stylish American couple Dick and Nicole Diver. A brilliant young psychiatrist at the time of his marriage, Dick is both husband and doctor to Nicole, whose wealth goads him into a lifestyle not his own, and whose growing strength highlights Dick’s harrowing demise.
Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller, 1934
Now hailed as an American classic Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller’s masterpiece, was banned as obscene in the US for twenty-seven years after its first publication in Paris in 1934. Only a historic court ruling that changed American censorship standards, ushering in a new era of freedom and frankness in modern literature, permitted the publication of this first volume of Miller’s famed mixture of memoir and fiction, which chronicles with unapologetic gusto the bawdy adventures of a young expatriate writer, his friends, and the characters they meet in Paris in the 1930s.
The House in Paris
by Elizabeth Bowen, 1935
When eleven-year-old Henrietta arrives at the Fishers’ well-appointed house in Paris, she is prepared to spend her day between trains looked after by an old friend of her grandmother’s. Little does Henrietta know what fascinations the Fisher house itself contains–along with secrets that have the potential to topple a marriage and redeem the life of a peculiar young boy. By the time Henrietta leaves the house that evening, she is in possession of the kind of grave knowledge that is usually reserved only for adults.
Good Morning, Midnight
by Jean Rhys, 1939
In 1930s Paris, where one cheap hotel room is very much like the another, a young woman is teaching herself indifference. She has escaped personal tragedy and has come to France to find courage and seek independence. She tells herself to expect nothing, especially not kindness, least of all from men. Tomorrow, she resolves, she will dye her hair blonde.
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943
Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.
Note: this is not set in France, but in the Sahara Desert and on the planets. It is included here as it is the most translated French work. Also notable is Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars.
The Age of Reason
by Jean-Paul Sartre, 1945
Set in the volatile Paris summer of 1938, The Age of Reason follows two days in the life of Mathieu Delarue, a philosophy teacher, and his circle in the cafés and bars of Montparnasse. Mathieu has so far managed to contain sex and personal freedom in conveniently separate compartments. But now he is in trouble, urgently trying to raise 4,000 francs to procure a safe abortion for his mistress, Marcelle. Beyond all this, filtering an uneasy light on his predicament, rises the distant threat of the coming of the Second World War.
by Françoise Sagan, 1954
Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950’s France with its portrayal of teenager Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and family to choose her own sexual freedom. Cécile leads a hedonistic, frivolous life with her father and his young mistresses. On holiday in the South of France, she is seduced by the sun, sand and her first lover. But when her father decides to remarry, their carefree existence becomes clouded by tragedy.
by Simone de Beauvoir, 1954
In her most famous novel, Simone de Beauvoir does not flinch in her look at Parisian intellectual society at the end of the Second World War. Drawing on those who surrounded her – Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler – and her passionate love affair with Nelson Algren, Beauvoir dissects the emotional and philosophical currents of her time. At once an engrossing drama and an intriguing political tale, The Mandarins is the emotional odyssey of a woman torn between her inner desire and her public life.
by Daphne du Maurier, 1957
By chance, John and Jean – one English, the other French – meet in a provincial railway station. Their resemblance to each other is uncanny, and they spend the next few hours talking and drinking – until at last John falls into a drunken stupor. It’s to be his last carefree moment, for when he wakes, Jean has stolen his identity and disappeared. So the Englishman steps into the Frenchman’s shoes, and faces a variety of perplexing roles – as owner of a chateau, director of a failing business, head of a fractious family, and master of nothing.
The Greengage Summer
by Rumer Godden, 1958
The faded elegance of Les Oeillets, with its bullet-scarred staircase and serene garden bounded by high walls; Eliot, the charming Englishman who became the children’s guardian while their mother lay ill in hospital; sophisticated Mademoiselle Zizi, hotel patronne, and Eliot’s devoted lover; 16 year old Joss, the oldest Grey girl, suddenly, achingly beautiful.
Zazie in the Metro
by Raymond Queneau, 1959
Impish, foul-mouthed Zazie arrives in Paris from the country to stay with her uncle Gabriel. All she really wants to do is ride the metro, but finding it shut because of a strike, Zazie looks for other means of amusement and is soon caught up in a comic adventure that becomes wilder and more manic by the minute.
A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway, 1964
Hemingway’s memories of his life as an unknown writer living in Paris in the twenties are deeply personal, warmly affectionate, and full of wit. Looking back not only at his own much younger self, but also at the other writers who shared Paris with him – James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – he recalls the time when, poor, happy, and writing in cafes, he discovered his vocation.
The Diary of Anaïs Nin (Vol. 1)
by Anaïs Nin, 1966
After decades of producing fiction that was rejected by mainstream readership and reviewers for being self-centered, exotic in prose, filled with psychological theory, and coterie in style, Anais finally found acceptance by integrating all of the above in this published version of her diary. Timing is everything. The world of the 1930s-50s simply was not ready for her. The Aquarian generation of the 1960s was.
by Henri Charrière, 1969
Henri Charrière, called “Papillon,” for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, was convicted in Paris in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana, he became obsessed with one goal: escape. After planning and executing a series of treacherous yet failed attempts over many years, he was eventually sent to the notorious prison, Devil’s Island, a place from which no one had ever escaped… until Papillon. His flight to freedom remains one of the most incredible feats of human cunning, will, and endurance ever undertaken.
The Bourne Identity
by Robert Ludlum, 1980
Who is Jason Bourne? Is he an assassin, a terrorist, a thief? Why has he got four million dollars in a Swiss bank account? Why has someone tried to murder him? Jason Bourne does not know the answer to any of these questions. Suffering from amnesia, he does not even know that he is Jason Bourne.
by Julian Barnes, 1984
Flaubert’s Parrot deals with Flaubert, parrots, bears and railways; with our sense of the past and our sense of abroad; with France and England, life and art, sex and death, George Sand and Louise Colet, aesthetics and redcurrant jam; and with its enigmatic narrator, a retired English doctor, whose life and secrets are slowly revealed.
by Marguerite Duras, 1984
Set against the backdrop of French colonial Vietnam, The Lover reveals the intimacies and intricacies of a clandestine romance between a pubescent girl from a financially strapped French family and an older, wealthy Chinese-Vietnamese man.
Note: this novel is set in Vietnam under French rule.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind, 1985
In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift – an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood.
A Year in Provence
by Peter Mayle, 1989
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine.
The Chalk Circle Man
by Fred Vargas, 1991
Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is not like other policemen. His methods appear unorthodox in the extreme: he doesn’t search for clues; he ignores obvious suspects and arrests people with cast-iron alibis; he appears permanently distracted. In spite of all this his colleagues are forced to admit that he is a born cop. When strange blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, only Adamsberg takes them – and the increasingly bizarre objects found within them – seriously.
by Peter Mayle, 1991
Taking up where his beloved A Year in Provence leaves off, Peter Mayle offers us another funny, beautifully (and deliciously) evocative book about life in Provence. With tales only one who lives there could know – of finding gold coins while digging in the garden, of indulging in sumptuous feasts at truck stops – and with characters introduced with great affection and wit – the gendarme fallen from grace, the summer visitors ever trying the patience of even the most genial Provençaux, the straightforward dog “Boy”. Toujours Provence is a heart-warming portrait of a place where, if you can’t quite “get away from it all,” you can surely have a very good time trying.
Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence
by Peter Mayle, 1993
Simon Shaw, a forty-two-year-old advertising tycoon, worn down by insatiable clients and a rapacious ex-wife, wants to get away from it all. On impulse he drives to the south of France. When an accident leaves him stranded in a small village in the Luberon, an enchanting Frenchwoman, who is between husbands, comes to his rescue and soon lures him into buying the local gendarmerie. Together they transform it into a little jewel of a hotel. And life seems idyllic.
by Sebastian Faulks, 1993
Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient.
The Virgin Blue
by Tracy Chevalier, 1997
Meet Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin – two women born centuries apart, yet bound by a fateful family legacy. When Ella and her husband move to a small town in France, Ella hopes to brush up on her French, qualify to practice as a midwife, and start a family of her own. Village life turns out to be less idyllic than she expected, however, and a peculiar dream of the color blue propels her on a quest to uncover her family’s French ancestry.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean-Dominique Bauby, 1997
In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French ‘Elle’ and the father of two young children, suffered a massive stroke and found himself paralysed and speechless, but entirely conscious, trapped by what doctors call ‘locked-in syndrome’. Using his only functioning muscle – his left eyelid – he began dictating this remarkable story, painstakingly spelling it out letter by letter.
How Proust Can Change Your Life
by Alain de Botton, 1997
Alain de Botton combines two unlikely genres – literary biography and self-help manual – in the hilarious and unexpectedly practical How Proust Can Change Your Life. Who would have thought that Marcel Proust, one of the most important writers of our century, could provide us with such a rich source of insight into how best to live life? Proust understood that the essence and value of life was the sum of its everyday parts. As relevant today as they were at the turn of the century, Proust’s life and work are transformed here into a no-nonsense guide to, among other things, enjoying your vacation, reviving a relationship, achieving original and unclichéd articulation, being a good host, recognizing love, and understanding why you should never sleep with someone on a first date.
by Joanne Harris, 1999
Illuminating Peter Mayle’s South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel’s magic realism, Chocolat is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village’s awakening to joy and sensuality. In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows.
I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere
by Anna Gavalda, 1999
I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere explores how a life can be changed irrevocably in just one fateful moment. A pregnant mother’s plans for the future unravel at the hospital; a traveling salesman learns the consequences of an almost-missed exit on the motorway in the newspaper the next morning; while a perfect date is spoilt by a single act of thoughtlessness. In those crucial moments Gavalda demonstrates her almost magical skill in conveying love, lust, longing, and loneliness.
by Jean Echenoz, 1999
I’m Gone begins simply enough: the hero, an urbane Parisian art dealer, tells his wife he’s leaving her, drops his keys on the table, and walks out forever. His new existence is as madcap and unpredictable as his old was staid. French phenomenon Jean Echenoz’s novel is a bitingly humorous look at the uncertainties of love at midlife, a suspenseful crime caper, and a witty, satirical foray into corruption in the international art market.
Me Talk Pretty One Day
by David Sedaris, 2000
David Sedaris’ move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section.
Paris to the Moon
by Adam Gopnik, 2000
With singular wit and insight, Gopnik weaves the magical with the mundane in a wholly delightful, often hilarious look at what it was to be an American family man in Paris at the end of the twentieth century. Paris. The name alone conjures images of chestnut-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafés, breathtaking façades around every corner–in short, an exquisite romanticism that has captured the American imagination for as long as there have been Americans.
On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town
by Susan Herrmann Loomis, 2001
Susan Loomis arrived in Paris twenty years ago with little more than a student loan and the contents of a suitcase to sustain her. But what began then as an apprenticeship at La Varenne École de Cuisine evolved into a lifelong immersion in French cuisine and culture, culminating in permanent residency in 1994. On Rue Tatin chronicles her journey to an ancient little street in Louviers, one of Normandy’s most picturesque towns.
Five Quarters of the Orange
by Joanne Harris, 2001
When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous Mirabelle Dartigen – the woman they still hold responsible for a terrible tragedy that took place during the German occupation decades before. Although Framboise hopes for a new beginning she quickly discovers that past and present are inextricably intertwined. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in the scrapbook of recipes she has inherited from her dead mother. With this book, Framboise re-creates her mother’s dishes, which she serves in her small creperie.
Grammar Is a Sweet, Gentle Song (Secret of Pleasures in Grammar #1)
by Érik Orsenna, 2001
At the heart of its message is an impassioned plea for the magic and power of words. Jeanne, the tough-minded ten-year-old narrator, and Thomas, fourteen, are traveling to America on an ocean liner to visit their mother when a violent storm sinks their ship and tosses them up on an island. They are unhurt, but the shock of the experience leaves them without the ability to speak.
Taken into the care of Monsieur Henri, an elderly islander, Jeanne and Thomas discover that the island is unlike any place they’ve ever been. There is the Word Market, where Monsieur Henri visits the Poets’ and Song-Writers’ Corner to see if they have any rhymes for sweet and mom. At town hall, pairs of words are married by the mayor. And Jeanne sneaks off to the Vocabulary of Love Shop, where a woman whose husband has left her wants to buy “a word that will make him understand how hurt I am, a mighty word that will make him ashamed.”
Note: this story is about French children traveling to America. It is included in this list for its exploration of the French language.
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown, 2003
While in Paris, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is awakened by a phone call in the dead of the night. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, his body covered in baffling symbols. As Langdon and gifted French cryptologist Sophie Neveu sort through the bizarre riddles, they are stunned to discover a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci – clues visible for all to see and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.
The Lady and the Unicorn
by Tracy Chevalier, 2003
Paris, 1490. A shrewd French nobleman commissions six lavish tapestries celebrating his rising status at Court. He hires the charismatic, arrogant, sublimely talented Nicolas des Innocents to design them. Nicolas creates havoc among the women in the house – mother and daughter, servant, and lady-in-waiting – before taking his designs north to the Brussels workshop where the tapestries are to be woven.
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris
by Sarah Turnbull, 2003
A delightful, fresh twist on the travel memoir, Almost French takes us on a tour that is fraught with culture clashes but rife with deadpan humor. Sarah Turnbull’s stint in Paris was only supposed to last a week. Chance had brought Sarah and Frédéric together in Bucharest, and on impulse she decided to take him up on his offer to visit him in the world’s most romantic city. Sacrificing Vegemite for vichyssoise, the feisty Sydney journalist does her best to fit in, although her conversation, her laugh, and even her wardrobe advertise her foreigner status.
The Book of Salt
by Monique Truong, 2003
Binh, a Vietnamese cook, flees Saigon in 1929, disgracing his family to serve as a galley hand at sea. The taunts of his now-deceased father ringing in his ears, Binh answers an ad for a live-in cook at a Parisian household, and soon finds himself employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
by Joanne Harris, 2003
Jay Mackintosh is trapped by memory in the old familiar landscape of his childhood, more enticing than the present, and to which he longs to return. A bottle of home-brewed wine left to him by a long vanished friend seems to provide both the key to an old mystery and a doorway into another world.
by Irène Némirovsky, 2004
By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française – the first two parts of a planned five-part novel – she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France – where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazis – she’d begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim.
Hunting and Gathering
by Anna Gavalda, 2004
Prize-winning author Anna Gavalda has galvanized the literary world with an exquisite genius for storytelling. Here, in her epic new novel of intimate lives-and filled with the “humanity and wit” (Marie Claire) that has made it a bestselling sensation in France – Gavalda explores the twists of fate that connect four people in Paris. Comprised of a starving artist, her shy, aristocratic neighbor, his obnoxious but talented roommate, and a neglected grandmother, this curious, damaged quartet may be hopeless apart, but together, they may just be able to face the world.
Note: it was made into one of my favorite movies!
Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow
by Faïza Guène, 2004
The Paradise projects are only a few metro stops from Paris, but here it’s a whole different kind of France. Doria’s father, the Beard, has headed back to their hometown in Morocco, leaving her and her mom to cope with their mektoub – their destiny – alone. They have a little help – from a social worker sent by the city, a psychiatrist sent by the school, and a thug friend who recites Rimbaud.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
by Kim Edwards, 2005
On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down’s Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself.
Note: this novel is primarily set in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, small portions take place in France.
by Kate Mosse, 2005
In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig, stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth. Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade that will rip apart southern France, a young woman named Alais is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father.
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.
by Jeremy Mercer, 2005
Wandering through Paris’s Left Bank one day, poor and unemployed, Canadian reporter Jeremy Mercer ducked into a little bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. Mercer bought a book, and the staff invited him up for tea. Within weeks, he was living above the store, working for the proprietor, George Whitman, patron saint of the city’s down-and-out writers, and immersing himself in the love affairs and low-down watering holes of the shop’s makeshift staff. Time Was Soft There is the story of a journey down a literary rabbit hole in the shadow of Notre Dame, to a place where a hidden bohemia still thrives.
My Life in France
by Julia Child, 2006
Although she would later singlehandedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching.
by Tatiana de Rosnay, 2006
Paris, July 1942: Ten-year-old Sarah is brutally arrested with her family in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, the most notorious act of French collaboration with the Nazis. But before the police come to take them, Sarah locks her younger brother, Michel, in their favorite hiding place, a cupboard in the family’s apartment. She keeps the key, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery, 2006
We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building’s tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Note: There is a prequel to this novel, Gourmet Rhapsody.
The Hundred-Foot Journey
by Richard C. Morais, 2008
“That skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along once a generation. He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist.” And so begins the rise of Hassan Haji, the unlikely gourmand who recounts his life’s journey in Richard Morais’s charming novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey. Lively and brimming with the colors, flavors, and scents of the kitchen, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a succulent treat about family, nationality, and the mysteries of good taste.
by Annie Ernaux, 2008
Considered by many to be the iconic French memoirist’s defining work, The Years is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present, cultural habits, language, photos, books, songs, radio, television, advertising and news headlines. Annie Ernaux invents a form that is subjective and impersonal, private and communal, and a new genre.
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City
by David Lebovitz, 2009
Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city in the 1980s. Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood. But he soon discovered it’s a different world “en France”.
Three Strong Women
by Marie NDiaye, 2009
This is the story of three women who say no: Norah, a French-born lawyer who finds herself in Senegal, summoned by her estranged, tyrannical father to save another victim of his paternity; Fanta, who leaves a modest but contented life as a teacher in Dakar to follow her white boyfriend back to France, where his delusional depression and sense of failure poison everything; and Khady, a penniless widow put out by her husband’s family with nothing but the name of a distant cousin (the aforementioned Fanta) who lives in France, a place Khady can scarcely conceive of but toward which she must now take desperate flight.
Lives Other Than My Own: A Memoir
by Emmanuel Carrère, 2009
In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grand-father helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children bereft. Present at both events, Emmanuel Carrère sets out to tell the story of two families – shattered and ultimately restored. What he accomplishes is nothing short of a literary miracle: a heartrending narrative of endless love, a meditation on courage and decency in the face of adversity, an intimate and reverent look at the extraordinary beauty and nobility of ordinary lives.
Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins, 2010
Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all… including a serious girlfriend.
The Invisible Bridge
by Julie Orringer, 2010
A grand love story and an epic tale of three brothers whose lives are torn apart by war. Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. As he becomes involved with the letter’s recipient, his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena, their younger brother leaves school for the stage – and Europe’s unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty.
Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes
by Elizabeth Bard, 2010
Lunch In Paris is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs – one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Packing her bags for a new life in the world’s most romantic city, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size 2 femmes fatales.
The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain, 2011
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness – until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group – the fabled “Lost Generation” – that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris
by John Baxter, 2011
From the author of Immoveable Feast and We’ll Always Have Paris comes a guided tour of the most beautiful walks through the City of Light, including the favorite walking routes of the many of the acclaimed artists and writers who have called Paris their home.
Paris Was Ours (Essay Collection)
by Penelope Rowlands, 2011
Paris is “the world capital of memory and desire,” concludes one of the writers in this intimate and insightful collection of memoirs of the city. Living in Paris changed these writers forever. In thirty-two personal essays – more than half of which are here published for the first time – the writers describe how they were seduced by Paris and then began to see things differently.
The Map and the Territory
by Michel Houellebecq, 2011
Having made his name with an exhibition of photographs of Michelin roadmaps – beautiful works that won praise from every corner of the art world – Jed Martin is now emerging from a ten-year hiatus. And he has had some good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward annual Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of his doomed love affair with the beautiful Olga. It is that, for his new exhibition, he has secured the involvement of none other than the French novelist Michel Houellebecq.
The Cleaner of Chartres
by Salley Vickers, 2012
There is something very special about Agnès Morel. A quiet presence in the small French town of Chartres, she can be found cleaning the famed medieval cathedral each morning and doing odd jobs for the townspeople. No one knows where she came from or why. Not Abbé Paul, who discovered her one morning twenty years ago, sleeping on the north porch, and not Alain Fleury, the irreverent young restorer who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes and elusive manner. She has transformed each of their lives in her own subtle way, yet no one suspects the dark secret Agnès is hiding.
The Perfume Collector
by Kathleen Tessaro, 2013
A remarkable novel about secrets, desire, memory, passion, and possibility. Newlywed Grace Monroe doesn’t fit anyone’s expectations of a successful 1950s London socialite, least of all her own. When she receives an unexpected inheritance from a complete stranger, Madame Eva d’Orsey, Grace is drawn to uncover the identity of her mysterious benefactor. Weaving through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, the story Grace uncovers is that of an extraordinary women who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers.
Paris: The Novel
by Edward Rutherfurd, 2013
From Edward Rutherfurd, the grand master of the historical novel, comes a dazzling epic about the magnificent city of Paris. Moving back and forth in time, the story unfolds through intimate and thrilling tales of self-discovery, divided loyalty, and long-kept secrets. As various characters come of age, seek their fortunes, and fall in and out of love, the novel follows nobles who claim descent from the hero of the celebrated poem The Song of Roland; a humble family that embodies the ideals of the French Revolution; a pair of brothers from the slums behind Montmartre, one of whom works on the Eiffel Tower as the other joins the underworld near the Moulin Rouge; and merchants who lose everything during the reign of Louis XV, rise again in the age of Napoleon, and help establish Paris as the great center of art and culture that it is today.
The Little Paris Bookshop
by Nina George, 2013
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe
by Romain Puértolas, 2013
Meet Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod. One day a fakir leaves his small village in India and lands in Paris. A professional con artist, the fakir is on a pilgrimage to IKEA, where he intends to obtain an object he covets above all others: a brand-new bed of nails. Without adequate euros in the pockets of his silk trousers, the fakir is all the same confident that his counterfeit 100-Euro note (printed on one side only) and his usual bag of tricks will suffice.
The Heart: A Novel
by Maylis de Kerangal, 2014
Just before dawn on a Sunday morning, three teenage boys go surfing. While driving home exhausted, the boys are involved in a fatal car accident on a deserted road. Two of the boys are wearing seat belts; one goes through the windshield. The doctors declare him brain-dead shortly after arriving at the hospital, but his heart is still beating. The Heart takes place over the twenty-four hours surrounding the resulting heart transplant, as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death.
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr, 2014
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
A Paris Apartment
by Michelle Gable, 2014
When April Vogt’s boss tells her about an apartment in the ninth arrondissement that has been discovered after being shuttered for the past seventy years, the Sotheby’s continental furniture specialist does not hear the words “dust” or “rats” or “decrepit.” She hears Paris. She hears escape. Once in France, April quickly learns the apartment is not merely some rich hoarder’s repository. Beneath the cobwebs and stale perfumed air is a goldmine, and not because of the actual gold (or painted ostrich eggs or mounted rhinoceros horns or bronze bathtub).
The Red Notebook
by Antoine Laurain, 2014
Heroic bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street. There’s nothing in the bag to indicate who it belongs to, although there’s all sorts of other things in it. Laurent feels a strong impulse to find the owner and tries to puzzle together who she might be from the contents of the bag. Especially a red notebook with her jottings, which really makes him want to meet her. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?
Paris for One
by Jojo Moyes, 2015
Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She has never even been on a weekend away with her boyfriend. Everyone knows she is just not the adventurous type. But, when her boyfriend doesn’t turn up for their romantic mini-break, Nell has the chance to prove everyone wrong.
The Great Swindle (Au revoir là-haut #1)
by Pierre Lemaitre, 2015
The year is 1918, the war on the Western Front all but over. An ambitious officer, Lieutenant Henry D’Aulnay-Pradelle, sends two soldiers over the top and then surreptitiously shoots them in the back to incite his men to attack the German lines.
P.S. from Paris
by Marc Levy, 2015
From Marc Levy, the most-read French author alive today, comes a modern-day love story between a famous actress hiding in Paris and a bestselling writer lying to himself. They knew their friendship was going to be complicated, but love – and the City of Lights – just might find a way.
by Kristin Hannah, 2015
France, 1939. In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France… but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.
by Martha Hall Kelly, 2016
Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades. New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939 – and then sets its sights on France.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep
by Beatrice Colin, 2016
In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France – a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family’s business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.
The Perfect Nanny (aka Lullaby)
by Leïla Slimani, 2016
When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau.
The Space Between Words
by Michèle Phoenix, 2017
When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.
What do you think of these books set in France?
Have some great books set in France that you think should be included? Are you planning a trip to France soon? Have any travel tips for readers visiting? I’d love to hear about more about your own travels and tips for books set in France in the comments below!
Looking for more reading ideas?
If you’re looking for more books set around Europe, see some of these popular posts:
- Books Set In Spain: Spanish Novels
- Books Set In Germany: German Novels
- Books Set in Greece: Greek Novels
- Books Set in Italy: Italian Novels
- Books Set in Scandinavia: Scandinavian Books