Tales from the Pays d’Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner – a French interlude of Summer in Winter

Hot sun, fine wine, lovely food and gossip. This is the long days of sunshine captured in a book, as unofficial groups of friends and associates enjoy simply living in the blissful setting of wine growing villages in southern France. Locals who have lived in the area for generations, visitors and other temporary residents from the U.K. and U.S.A, all combine to form a loose community where many have their roles. This is a gentle read which offers a non – challenging invitation to join in the gossip and tales of distinct individuals who come together for high days and holidays, and most crucially the animals which provide the animation for many of these tales. I was pleased to be offered an opportunity to read this delightful book.

The sights, smells and sounds of village centres draw the reader into a sunny square where members of the Saturday Club and other patrons of l’Estaminet gather to swop observations on local life and gossip about their neighbours. Cats prowl, obsessions about vehicles are resolved, couples explore the area to the amusement of the locals, and surely most of human life is here. Dinner parties form the background for gentle espionage and parties happen with or without a specific organiser, merely as a result of community goodwill. This is a community where many would love to live; where even marital disputes are a matter for cheerful reflection. This is a happy place, full of reasonable people and harmless eccentrics, where ex pats and local characters blend together with no serious disputes. Nothing here is grim or challenging, all pets, people and occupations tolerate and live with others.  The dogs have charming names and mannerisms in the main, as they earn their places in family affections and local folklore. Even the summoning of the emergency services is not so traumatic, though very interesting.

Though a little predictable at times, this is a book which continually charms and always entertains. Its setting means that many little French phrases and names are sprinkled throughout, but this did not cause any problems even for the stubbornly monolingual. Cheerful and positive, this is reminiscent of Gerald Durrell’s memoirs of a peaceful life where the humans are often more remarkable than animals in their behaviour. I enjoyed greatly its pictures of the exchanges between very realistically drawn people. As a restful, comforting read which brings a glimpse of a French summer in midwinter, this is an excellent choice.

Meanwhile I am writing and reading furiously here in the Vicarage – lots of lovely books to tackle. I have quite different books to review over the next few days, and no one will be able to say I stick to one genre!