★ ★ ★
French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle | Vintage Books, a division of Random House | April 2002 | Paperback $15.00
The French celebrate food and drink more than any other people, and Mayle shows us just how contagious their enthusiasm can be. We visit the Foire aux Escargots. We attend a truly French marathon, where the beverage of choice is Chteau Lafite-Rothschild rather than Gatorade. We search out the most pungent cheese in France, and eavesdrop on a heated debate on the perfect way to prepare an omelet. We even attend a Catholic mass in the village of Richerenches, a sacred event at which thanks are given for the aromatic, mysterious, and breathtakingly expensive black truffle. With Mayle as our inimitably charming guide, we come away with a satisfied smile (if a little hungry) and the compelling desire to book a flight to France at once.
It didn’t live up to my high expectations, but I’m glad I gave this book a try anyway.
I really enjoyed Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, so I assumed that French Lessons would be just as (if not more) delicious. Although I moderately enjoyed reading it, it didn’t really pull me in. I just didn’t get that strong feeling of atmosphere that I so enjoyed in the previous book.
I also expected to be drooling, to be desperately wishing that the stuff on my lunch plate could magically morph into whatever was being described in the book, but again… this book didn’t provoke the kind of strong feelings or imaginary tastes that I was hoping for.
Also, by the end of the book every story started to seem a little formulaic. Bumbling but well-meaning foodie Englishman goes to some place in France that is famous for some sort of odd French food or food-related event, usually with at least one sort of odd French person as nominal guide, just to try said food. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this formula — most of the stories are quite entertaining and Mayle does have a way of writing that makes the reader feel like he’s actually a good friend — but this is not really a book that I can sit down with and just read all the way through without getting a little bored.
I don’t want to sound too negative about this book. After all, 3 stars is actually a decent rating! I generally liked it and I wish I could find my paperback copy (I started reading it and then lost it somewhere, so ended up finishing with a library e-book instead). All in all it is a fairly enjoyable read and I’m happy to have tried it as part of my Foodies Read challenge this year.
Publication information: Mayle, Peter. French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Print.
Source: Public library used book sale; public library e-book platform Overdrive.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.