The best French novels about which you may have never heard anything

Richard Hernaman Allen Author Of The Waterguard
By Richard Hernaman Allen

Who am I?

I’ve gone to France often during my life. I always buy books that look interesting while I’m there, mainly to keep my French in good shape. I tend to pick authors and subjects which catch my eye. Some get discarded, but most give a fascinating and often very different perspective on life than I find in English novels and essays. 


I wrote...

The Waterguard

By Richard Hernaman Allen,

Book cover of The Waterguard

What is my book about?

Newly posted to Harwich, Nick Storey (Officer of HM Customs & Excise) learns not just that his predecessor has died, but that he left in his possession a large number of uncut diamonds. Discovering that the diamonds came from the Soviet Union, he and his girlfriend are menaced by KGB agents, chase a traitor in a Customs cutter in the North Sea, and follow the trail to the end: meeting a top Russian diplomat by the Regent’s Canal in London. The first of a series of detective stories set in HM Customs & Excise.

The books I picked & why

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Life A User's Manual

By Georges Perec, David Bellos (translator),

Book cover of Life A User's Manual

Why this book?

This is a complex and overwhelming book. It covers the detailed contents and history of the rooms and characters in a large apartment block in Paris. Some of the rooms and characters interact in a complex, sometimes dark way. It is a long book, but I found it enthralling all the way through. If you like a detailed, complex, baroque book where you have to read carefully and make connections, this is for you.

Life A User's Manual

By Georges Perec, David Bellos (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life A User's Manual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this ingenious book Perec creates an entire microcosm in a Paris apartment block. Serge Valene wants to make an elaborate painting of the building he has made his home for the last sixty years. As he plans his picture, he contemplates the lives of all the people he has ever known there. Chapter by chapter, the narrative moves around the building revealing a marvellously diverse cast of characters in a series of every more unlikely tales, which range from an avenging murderer to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime...

Blood Dark

By Louis Guilloux, Laura Marris (translator),

Book cover of Blood Dark

Why this book?

This book gripped me as I read it in French. While it’s a story of a lonely and despairing man coming apart at the seams and ending up killing himself, it also feels like a commentary on what was happening to France at that time in 1935. It’s a heavy, dark book, but I believe one of the greatest French novels ever written.

Blood Dark

By Louis Guilloux, Laura Marris (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blood Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


A Void

By Georges Perec, Gilbert Adair (translator),

Book cover of A Void

Why this book?

This book has the stunning feature of omitting the letter E entirely. It’s also a fascinating story. I confess I read it at least in part to see whether the author has slipped up anywhere or whether he had recourse to clumsy constructions, but he was a writer of too much skill and ingenuity for that!

A Void

By Georges Perec, Gilbert Adair (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Void as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Small Pleasures Of Life

By Philippe Delerm,

Book cover of The Small Pleasures Of Life

Why this book?

This is an excellent series of essays on the small things in life which please the author. Some are more obvious than others, but all are described stylishly and with typical French humour and elegance. I confess that after reading it, I did my own—inevitably inferiorversion. But it was an enjoyment just going through the process.

The Small Pleasures Of Life

By Philippe Delerm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Small Pleasures Of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An enchanting celebration of life's small pleasures, this little book captures the French imagination and art of living a good life.

Each chapter features a small pleasure that is both uniquely Gallic and universal. From the smell of apples maturing in a cellar to the gentle whir of a bicycle dynamo at dusk to turning the pages of a newspaper over breakfast, to the joy of a snowstorm inside a paperweight . . .

Recounted with a lively, innocent curiosity about the little things that make life worthwhile, this is an unforgettable, absorbing read to be savoured at length by…


The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

By Anatole France,

Book cover of The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

Why this book?

This is Anatole France’s first novel: a curious two-part story about two “crimes”—the first not selling valuable books which were intended to pay for the dowry of his daughter/granddaughter (depending on which edition you read); the second rescuing his daughter/granddaughter from an abusive guardian. Apart from the wonderful style of writing, I found the curious detachment of the protagonist, detailed in diary form, unusual and oddly compelling.

The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

By Anatole France,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


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