Books set in Paris
No city comes to life more in spring than Paris, with its tree shaded boulevards lined with outdoor cafes and iconic architecture. As Henry Miller said: "When spring comes to Paris the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise."
It's no surprise, then, that for decades the city has been a source of inspiration for some of the greatest writers who have gravitated there. With this in mind and inspired by this thread, we've rounded up a list of our favourite books set in the City of Light. Amongst them: the story of a girl who finds herself living on the Parisian rooftops; an American adapting to life in bohemian 1920s Paris, amongst it’s glittering array of artists; a young boy's sexual awakening during a summer in the city, and a murder commited in 18th century Paris by a vile perfumier with a heightened sense of smell.
The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain
Rose Tremain's novel is a brilliant reverse Lolita tale of a young 13-year-old boy falling in love with an older woman. Lewis spends his summer in an attic of a magnificent apartment in Paris owned by Valentina Gavrilovich, a bestselling and exotic Russian novelist. Whilst his mother translates Valentina's latest romance Lewis spends his days wandering the streets of Paris alone, smitten by its beauty. When Valentina suddenly disappears Lewis takes it upon himself to find her. A glorious coming of age story spiked with mystery and adventure, all set in the heat of a Parisian summer.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A memoir of short stories chronicling Hemingway's adventures in Paris in the 1920s, after he quit journalism to become a writer. Joyous, despite being sometimes set against a backdrop of near poverty and the harsh Paris winter, we are provided with colourful tales including the often humorous encounters with other writers living in Paris at the time such as Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford, F.Scott Fitzgerald - as well as glorious moments of enjoying the city and its simple pleasures with his first wife Hadley. Not only is this an exciting insight to Hemingway's early life, but also to the essence of 1920s Paris itself.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
For those in love with the golden era of '20s Paris, Paula McLain's novel gives a voice to Hadley, aka Mrs Ernest Hemingway, who moves with her husband from Chicago to Paris and attempts to settle down to marriage and motherhood amidst the hedonistic crowd of artists and writers. Author Paula McLain said, "it was terribly difficult to stick to the real story at times. I wanted to shake them both more than once". This was a Mumsnet bookclub choice back in 2012.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
In this case you are safe to judge the book by its cover - it wins our vote for pure elegance. Madame Renée Michel is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building. Patronised by the residents, she hides her passionate, artistic nature from them. A set of events eventually forces her, along with the inhabitants of her apartment block, to reveal their true selves. Be prepared to read and weep.
60 Postcards by Rachael Chadwick
When Rachael Chadwick lost her mother to cancer her life was shattered. She decided to create a project to celebrate this incredible, irreplaceable woman. Using Eurostar vouchers her mother had bought her, she set off to Paris where she would scatter 60 handwritten postcards around the city, asking the finder to get in touch. This is the moving and uplifting story of how the project helped her come to terms with her loss.
Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola
It's wrong to run a feature on French books without including the mighty Emile Zola. A story of lust, madness and destruction set within the dingy backstreets of Paris, Therese Raquin is a Penguin Classic read by many Mumsnetters as part of their A Level syllabuses where it met mixed reviews. Cappucino said "God it was a misery", whilst Bunsofpannetone declared it "utterly horrible, atmospheric and compelling to the last page, one of the best thrillers I've ever read".
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
George Orwell’s memoir is set in two parts. The first part documents his time living in squalor with the down and outs of Paris, sleeping in bug-infested hostels and eventually finding work as a dishwasher in horrendous 'Hôtel X’. George Orwell’s first full length published work exposed his readers for the first time to shocking, previously hidden world and marked him as a great social commentator and writer.
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter
Paris is a pedestrian's city – each block a revelation, every neighbourhood a new feast for the senses, a place rich with history and romance at every turn. In this enchanting memoir, acclaimed author and Paris resident John Baxter sets off on the trail of Paris's legendary artists and writers. Along the way, he tells the city’s story, introducing us to a brilliant cast of characters and the places they loved. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World is your guide par excellence to the true, off-the-beaten-track heart of the City of Light.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
Cited again and again by Mumsnetters as one of their all time favourite reads, Patrick Suskind's classic is set in 18th century Paris. In the market place, under the fish gutting table, he introduces the grotesque Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, possibly one of the most gruesome protagonists in the history of literature. As one Mumsnetter says: "Quirky, gruesome, evocative. Genius how a book can get up one's nose quite so successfully".
Paris to the Moon: A Family in France by Adam Gopnik
This book recounts the five years New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and his family spent in France. Mumsnetter FlossieT says: "Fantastic observations of the city's culture and the way that expats behave in it. It won't give you small talk but it's a lovely window on the culture."
AND FOR THE CHILDREN...
A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino
Join a girl and her granddad as they explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Visit a traditional street market, climb Notre-Dame and gaze up at the Eiffel Tower. Salvatore Rubbino's lively illustrations beautifully capture the delight of a young visitor experiencing the wonders of Paris.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
'In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines'. Madeline may have been the smallest of the 12 little girls, but she was also the feistiest. The first in a series of seven books was written by Ludwig Bemelmans in 1939 and the iconic Parisian world of Madeline has been loved by adults and children ever since.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Rooftoppers tells the story of Sophie, a young girl found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel. Adopted by gently scholar Charles, she is determined to find her mother and on the advice of 'never ignore a possible' heads for Paris, where she finds herself in an adventure on the rooftops of the city with the children who live there. A beautiful, timeless modern classic, Rooftoppers was last week crowned the winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.
Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson & Hilary Knight
First published in 1957, a time when Paris was the undisputed capital of couture. The illustrations are dotted with the celebrities author Kay Thompson knew there: Richard Avedon takes Eloise's passport photograph, Christian Dior prods her tummy, while his young assistant Yves Saint Laurent looks on, Lena Horne sits at an outdoor café. What's more, Thompson's goddaughter, Liza Minelli, has been cited as a possible model for Eloise. Ooh la la!
Last updated: about 3 years ago