The best books set in France with themes to match

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by these themes – love, France, mystery, women’s lives, war, and peace. My parents took me to France when I was 12 and I’ve spent years there in between and go back whenever I can. I started reading in French when sent to be an au pair in Switzerland when I was 17. My own novel, The Lost Love Letters Of Henri Fournier was absorbing to write as it contains all of the above. I found an unpublished novel of Fournier’s in a village in rural France a few years ago and decided I had to write about him and his lover, Pauline, who was a famous French actress. 


I wrote...

The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier

By Rosalind Brackenbury,

Book cover of The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier

What is my book about?

Seb Fowler has arrived in Paris to research his literary idol, Henri Fournier. It begins with an interview granted by a woman whose affair with the celebrated writer trails back to World War I. The enchanting Pauline is fragile, but her memories are alive―those of an illicit passion, of the chances she took and never regretted, and of the twists of fate that defined her unforgettable love story.

Through Pauline’s love letters, her secrets, and a lost Fournier manuscript, Seb will come to learn so much more―about Pauline, Henri, and himself. For Seb, every moment of Pauline’s past proves to be more inspiring than he could have imagined. She’s given him the courage to grab hold of whatever life offers, to cherish each risk, and to pursue love in his life.

The books I picked & why

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The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes

By Hermione Lee, Alain-Fournier, Frank Davison (translator)

Book cover of The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes

Why this book?

The story of a boy growing up in France before World War 1, of friendship and love and a mysterious house to which the hero finds it hard to return, I have been mesmerized for a lifetime by this short novel, and it’s the basis for my own novel about Fournier’s life and loves.  


The Ebony Tower

By John Fowles,

Book cover of The Ebony Tower

Why this book?

Another story that's impossible to forget – actually this is a novella in a collection of stories with this name. Again, about a lost house in a forest in France, an artist, a young man in love, and the two young women who bewitch him in turns. John Fowles is an English writer from the 1960s, whose work I loved when young and still do. He was much influenced by Alain-Fournier.


Divisadero

By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of Divisadero

Why this book?

Although it begins in California, this novel develops into a story set in France. Two sisters, separated by their father after a violent incident, search for each other and eventually connect via a French recluse, whose life one sister is researching. I love Michael Ondaatje’s writing and this book in particular for its daring sweep of geographical and emotional territory. 


The Parisian

By Isabella Hammad,

Book cover of The Parisian

Why this book?

This is a recent first novel, set mostly in France, about a young Palestinian man who goes there to study medicine and falls in love with the daughter of his host. I’m still reading it, and admiring the sureness of touch, the knowledge of history, and above all the sense of the period – it’s set before World War 1 and continues through the 20th century. Brava, Isabella Hammad!


The Ripening Seed

By Colette,

Book cover of The Ripening Seed

Why this book?

Anyone who wants to read a love story – all of us, surely – has to start with this story of young love set on the coast of the South of France in the early 20th century. Colette’s prose has been well matched by her translators and she’s simply a jewel of a writer and the first woman who really told the truth about love and sexuality.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, bildungsroman, and adopted children?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, bildungsroman, and adopted children.

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