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BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books Set in France

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My lovely publicist Peri is setting off to France for Christmas, and knowing what a Francophile I am, asked me for a list of books she should read before she goes. 

So here it is. My favourite books set in France:

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris – Sarah Turnbull
My Life in France – Julia Child
True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women In Paris – Lucinda Holdforth (a must read! I'm lending it to Peri)

Fiction by Contemporary Writers
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
Girl at the Lion d’Or - Sebastian Faulks
Charlotte Grey - Sebastian Faulks
Chocolat – Joanne Harris
Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris (one of my all-time favourite books)
Peaches for Monsieur l’Cure - Joanne Harris
Perfume – Patrick Suskind   
The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. - Sandra Gullard
The Lady & the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier
The Confessions of Catherine d’Medici: A Novel  – Christopher Gortner 
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Sepulchre - Kate Mosse
Citadel - Kate Mosse 

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer (I love this book so much - it was my first Georgette Heyer!)
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 

I know I'm forgetting some fantastic books! Any recommendations?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earlier this week, trying to define the new book by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty, I called it fantastical magic realism. 

Although ‘A Corner of White’ was set in both our world and an imaginary secondary world, a common trope of fantasy fiction, it was not really fantasy, I said, partly because, ‘the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists.’ 

A few people have challenged me on that, asking ‘what exactly IS magic realism, then?’

Being a brave soul, I thought I’d try, at least, to express what I think it’s all about. 

Magic realism is, I think, a genre of fiction set in our own world, in which strange, uncanny, or magical things happen in the midst of everyday events. The protagonists do not change their world, as is the case in most fantasy novels; rather, they themselves are changed as a consequence of the magic. The line between real and unreal, possible and impossible, is blurred. Life is shown to be filled with mystery and the inexplicable.

Here is one quote I found that I like, by the Mexican-American writer, Luis Leal:

‘In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.’

A few books that I have read and loved, and that I would call ‘magic realism’:

'House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende 

'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel 

'Garden Spells' by Sarah Addison Allen 

'Love in the Time of Cholera ' by Gabriel García Márquez 

'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern 

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger 

'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris 

'Practical Magic' by Alice Hoffman 

'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey 

INTERVIEW: Joanne Harris, author of 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My third and final blog post to celebate Joanne Harris being in Australia (as you all know by now, she's one of my all-time favourite writers. And I get to hang out with her in Brisbane! Life is good).

Reviewing her most recent book, 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure', I said: 'The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.'

The rest of my review can be found here, but for now enjoy the interview:

How long did the book take you to write?
About 18 months. I started writing it in mid-2010, just before Ramadan.

What was the most difficult challenge you needed to overcome?
Persuading my publishers that a story featuring Muslim characters and abuse of women could be treated sensitively...

Do you ever struggle with self-doubt or fear about your writing?
Always. It comes with the territory.

Did you get to go to France for research? (if so, I'm jealous)
I go to France all the time, although all my research (if you can call it that) was done as I was growing up, on long holidays at my grandfather's house.

Did you ever have an imaginary friend yourself?
No, but my daughter did - an imaginary rabbit called Pantoufle, whom I adopted in CHOCOLAT.

Do you cook food as beautifully as you write about it?
No. I imagine things far better than I actually do them...

Do you believe in magic?
Yes, although not necessarily by its traditional definition.


BOOK REVIEW: 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' by Joanne Harris

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Title: Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Doubleday
Age Group & Genre: contemporary magic realism for adults

The Blurb:
‘It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead’

When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight year ago, she opened a chocolate shop.

But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jérôme like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.

Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa who have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

What I Liked About This Book:
'Chocolat' is one of my favourite books and Joanne Harris is one of my favourite authors. Her novel 'Five Quarters of the Orange' will always be listed in my top 5 favourite adult books.

However, when I heard that she had written another sequel to Chocolat, I didn’t squeal with excitement and rush out to the bookshop straightaway, as I usually do when one of my favourite writers publishes a new book.

I did go to the bookshop and look at the book, wondering, weighing it in my hands. The gorgeous cover swayed me, the blurb on the back cover enticed me (a return to the little French village of Lansquenet, which had so charmed me in Chocolat … I did like the sound of that).

So I opened the book and read the first chapter. It reads, in its entirety:

‘Someone once told me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.
What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.’

That’s it. The whole first chapter.

I love writers who have the courage to write such short and simple chapters.  Somehow they are always powerful.

With a growing sense of excitement and joy, I turned the page and read the next page and then the next. I was hooked. I wanted to read more. And so I bought 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' and took it home with me.

Before I go on and tell you what I feel about the rest of the book, perhaps I should explain why I hadn’t squealed with excitement at the news that Joanne Harris was writing another book about Vianne Rocher.
The fault lies with 'The Lollipop Shoes', which sits between 'Chocolat' and 'Peaches'. I had squealed in excitement and rushed out to but that one, but, for me, it just didn’t have the same charm and magic as 'Chocolat'. I think it may be because the story alternated between the points of view of Vianne and the antagonist of the story, Zozie de l’Alba, which not only made the story much longer but also took out the element of surprise since we were privy to her thoughts and feelings right from the very beginning and so were never left to wonder whether she was friend or foe. I was also disappointed to find Vianne not working her own particular brand of magic anymore.

I am very happy to say, though, that 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure' has restored all my faith in Joanne Harris as a novelist. The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.

It’s a pleasure to be back in the small French village that we know and love, with its cast of eccentric characters. It’s a clever twist to have Vianne’s former antagonist now one of the primary points of view, and Reynard’s character – stiff-necked, prickly, stubborn yet wanting to do good – is one of the delights of the novel.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:
There may have been just one or two too many references to the wind changing …



INTERVIEW: Joanne Harris, author of 'Chocolat' & 'Five Quarters of the Orange'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

To celebrate my appearance with one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris, at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, I am having a whole week dedicated to her on my blog. To kick things off, this is an interview I did with Joanne in 2009 - she was one of the very first authors I approached which shows how close her books are to my heart.

Here are Joanne's answers:

Are you a daydreamer too?
 I think it comes with the territory...

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Always. I can't think of a more wonderful way to earn a living.

Where do you write?
Mostly at home, in the library - or in the greenhouse, which has the most
extraordinary light (and no phone). But I can write on the road too; in
planes, trains, airports, hotel rooms. I don't need special conditions when
I'm in the zone...

What is your favourite part of writing?
The moment at which everything comes together, and suddenly - wham! You're
somewhere else...

What do you do when you get blocked?
I move to something else - another book, a short story, even a fanfic - and

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
 I talk to people. I move around. I read. I observe.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
 Mervyn Peake, Ray Bradbury, Iain Banks, John Mortimer, P G Wodehouse, Edgar
Allan Poe, Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, Cormac McCarthy.


What do you consider to be good writing?
Something that I don't want to edit or proof as I read along...

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
 Be persistent. Read omnivorously. Know how to take advice - and reject it
too, when necesssary. Love what you do.

Joanne Harris's website

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