Book: A Good Year by Peter Mayle

Lightweight but delightful

Peter Mayle
A Good Year
Vintage, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-70562-7
287 pages

Peter Mayle became justly famous for his book A Year in Provence. It's about his leaving gray and soggy London and moving to Provence in the south of France. Many or most of his subsequent books have touched on similar themes, especially food, drink, and the south of France. A Good Year is a novel about Max Skinner who has just been fired from a financial job in the City of London when he inherits a good-sized farmhouse with a small vineyard in Provence. Despite having worked in the City, he's not flush with cash, but a loan from an old buddy named Charlie who sells posh real-estate convinces him to see if it's practical to live in it.

Someone who was feeling uncharitable might point out that Mr Mayle has gotten quite a lot of mileage out of food, drink, and the sunny south of France. But Mr Mayle's prose never leaves me in an uncharitable mood.

Take, for example:

    A long avenue of plane trees formed a graceful
    natural entrance to the village. They had been
    planted, like every other plane tree in Provence
     -- if one believed the stories -- by Napoleon, in
    order to provide shade for his marching armies.
    History didn't relate how he had aver found time
    for war -- or, indeed, for Josephine -- in the
    midst of all this frenzied gardening. (p. 44)

A previously-unknown Californian cousin of Max's who's knowledgeable about wine appears on Max's doorstep and Charlie comes to visit at an opportune moment. There's little dramatic tension and, indeed, most of what happens in the novel is a foregone conclusion. This is not a book for people who insist on surprising plot twists or unusual characters. But Mr Mayle's descriptions are always excellent, he evokes atmosphere with a sure hand, and his story is delightful.

A Good Year is not a challenging book, but it's a delightful one to take on a vacation or to read on chilly winter evenings in Minneapolis. It's a large glass of Beaujolais Nouveau of a book.

There are a couple of tiny editing errors: "l'ami" shold be capitalized (p. 60) and there's "eight" where "eighty" is meant (p. 267).

Posted: Thu - December 20, 2007 at 07:25 PM   Main   Category: