Last Updated on 16th April 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
France is a unique destination, and that may well be the reason that it’s the most visited tourist hot spot in the world. Sadly, though, we can’t all be in France all the time- much as we might like to be! However, a short story or a lengthy novel can easily transport you through the power of words to the land of cheese, croissants, and clichés. Here are twenty-five magical books about France you need in your life:
Books about France by French authors
Of course, no article on the best books about France would be complete without a look at some of the finest French novels and works created by people who have lived and written in the language of love. Here are some of the best books set in France, by French authors!
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – by Victor Hugo
While the original is in French, there are plenty of English translations to be read! The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a romantic/gothic novel written in the 19th century and is ultimately the book that saved the real-life Notre Dame Cathedral. Give it a read this year if you want to try a French classic!
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – by Muriel Barbery
The original may be in French, but the translation definitely does the French version proud. Since transformed into a film, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is written by a novelist and philosophy teacher, and its plot centres around residents living in an elegant (and very expensive) Parisian apartment block.
Dangerous Liaisons – by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
You’ve most likely watched the movie ‘Cruel Intentions’ featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Reese Witherspoon, but did you know that the film is based on a book set just prior to the French Revolution? First published as four short volumes, the story is told in an epistolary way, and so comprises of solely letters between characters.
La Bête Humaine – By Emile Zola
Murder, intrigue and mystery, this gripping novel is known in English as ‘The Beast Within’ or ‘The Beast in Man’. Written by Zola in 1890, the storyline follows the story of a killer and is an intense look on human nature, and what it means to be human. Many claim that this is one of Zola’s all-time best works.
The Count of Monte Cristo – By Alexandre Dumas
Though the story does not take place solely in France, it is, in fact, an adventure novel that takes the reader through France, Italy, and the wider Mediterranean, it remains one of the best French novels by a French writer. There is a historical element to the book, one which remains crucial to the plot, and the story follows the journey of a man who is accused of a crime he did not commit. Much of the book is centred around this dashing young man comes back for his revenge…
Fictional works set in France
There’s nothing better for your imagination (or often in order to relax) than picking up a great fictional book, sitting, and reading with a cup of tea to hand. Luckily for you and I, there are plenty of fictional and imaginary worlds in the novels about France! After all, this is the land of perfect food, fairytale castles and forgotten towns…
Murder on the Quai – by Cara Black
If you enjoy murder mysteries and love the City of Lights, then the Aimée Leduc series is probably worth checking out. This New York Times bestselling series follows the (mis)adventures of a young medic who is plunged into the very heart of a murder story. Although there are over a dozen books in the Aimée Leduc series, this novel easily stands alone as it is a kind of ‘prequel’ to the rest of the novels.
Seeking Whom He May Devour – by Fred Vargas
Set in a remote French village, this French crime novel is called L’Homme à l’envers in French (‘The Inside Out Man’). The plot follows the investigations of Commissioner Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg as he tracks supposed werewolves in search for the real killer of flocks of ewes, and eventually, people.
Labyrinth – by Kate Mosse
Set in Cathar country, Mosse takes her readers on a voyage, incorporating archaeology, historical elements and local legends. Much of the book is centred on two storylines; a woman living in 1209, and a woman living in 2005. This historical fiction piece incorporates real events from history; the Crusade against the Cathars in what is now southern France, and the massacre at Béziers. The book won the Sunday Time’s Best Read of the Year in 2006.
The Da Vinci Code – by Dan Brown
Dan Brown’s worldwide bestselling novel has since been transformed into a film starring Tom Hanks and probably needs no introduction (if you’re interested, here are the Da Vinci Filming Locations in Paris). The book itself takes place across Europe, but much of the storyline happens in France. The plot presents an ‘alternative religious history,’ whereby Jesus has descendants and the genre of The Da Vinci code is part thriller, part conspiracy, and part detective, all in equal measure.
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Of course, no article on the best books about France would be complete without a nod to A Tale of Two Cities; a story which takes place between London and Paris. The work is historical fiction and is set in the two capitals before and during the French Revolution. It follows the intertwining stories of Lucie and her father, Doctor Manette, who have never met as he was imprisoned for eighteen years in the Bastille. It’s well worth a read if you ever get the chance and explores the conditions that led up to the French Revolution.
Biographies and Memoirs about France
Ever wondered what it would be like to pack up your bags and move to France? Well, these books about living, breathing and working in France are from people who have really gone and done it for themselves.
A Year in Provence – by Peter Mayle
Who doesn’t dream of packing up their things and moving to France? Well, Peter Mayle dreamed of doing just this… And then he actually did. His best-selling novel about his first year in the South of France is a humorous and witty recollection of his time there. Chapters of the book follow the months of the year and plot twists include underground truffle traders and incredibly bad weather.
Aspects of Provence – by James Pope-Hennessy
First published in 1952, this book is similar to ‘A Year in Provence’ and explores the history, people and culture of the popular French region. It’s the perfect primer if you want to understand more about Provence and well worth a read if you loved ‘A Year in Provence’.
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris – by Sarah Turnbull
When Sarah Turnbull first heads to Paris, she’s only meant to stay for a week. She’d met a Frenchman, Frederic Veniere, in Bucharest and had decided to accept his offer of a week in the most Romantic city in the world, Paris. The former Sydney journalist writes about life, her love life, and ultimately falling in love with Paris.
The House in France: A Memoir – by Gully Wells
Following the death of her mother six years prior, Gully Wells takes a trip to La Migoua, a house in Provence that had belonged to her mother, the American journalist Dee Wells. The book recounts Wells’ time in France, as well as her childhood there and is an entertaining memoir full of surprises and easy to read.
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
This semi-autobiographical memoir by Ernest Hemingway is set in the roaring ’20s where Hemingway lived, struggling to make a living as a writer and a journalist. Although the book may have been written decades ago, it remains one of the best memoirs about living in France to this day.
Forget Paris! Books Set in France Outside the French Capital
There’s a whole world outside of Paris (and yes, Paris is still amazing) that’s worth a visiting, but that many people never get a chance to see. Experience French life out in ‘Les Provinces’ as the French call the regions away from the capital.
All the Light We Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr
How do I even begin to describe this book? Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2015, All the Light We Cannot See is set between Paris and Saint-Malo at the height of WWII. The prose is out of this world in the way it describes scientific theories, the life of the book’s characters, and, of course, the cities of Saint-Malo and Paris. If you’re looking to read a beautiful book, then put Doerr’s novel on your to-read list.
The Horseman on the Roof – by Jean Giono
Much of the book is located in Provence and The Horseman on the Roof has since been transformed into a movie starring Juliette Binoche. The original book was published in the 1950s and follows the story of a young Italian nobleman who is residing in France and is trying to raise money for the Italian revolution against Austria in the mid-1800s.
The Three Musketeers – by Alexandre Dumas
The story of The Three Musketeers is so famous that it probably doesn’t need an introduction! Written in 1844 and set in the 1600s, the book follows the novels of a young man named d’Artagnan who wishes to travel to Paris to join the Musketeers of the Guard. The book takes place all over France and is a swashbuckling adventure that well deserves this place on a list about the best books about France!
‘Chocolat‘ – by Joanne Harris
In the south of France, far away from the glittering lights of the big cities, in the fictional town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a young single mother arrives with her six-year-old daughter. The main protagonist, Vianne Rocher sets up shop as a chocolatier and the film explores life in France, as well as some of its best culinary delights. If you love food, reading and France, then this is the book about France for you!
Suite Française – by Irène Némirovsky
In the past few years, Suite Française has since been transformed into a film starring Michelle Williams. What you may not know is that this film was first a book set against the backdrop of WWII and was meant to be the title of a series of five books. However, Irène Némirovsky, a Frenchwoman of Ukranian-Jewish origin was arrested in 1942 for being Jewish and was then murdered at Auschwitz. Her daughters preserved the notebook containing the works but did not look at them until 1998. In 2004, a novel was published under the title ‘Suite Française,’ an amalgamation of the first two novels.
Non-Fiction Works about France
Of course, France didn’t just come to be how it is just like ‘that’! And neither did the French language. There’s a whole body of works about France that are factual and educational… And you should probably read one or two!
Whether your French is a little rusty, or you’ve never attempted conversing in the language of love, a simple French phrasebook is a necessity for when you’ve got no phone signal (and can’t access a search engine), or simply when you’d like a little help in acquiring a new language quicker.
60 Million French Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong: Why We Love France But Not The French – by Jean-Benoît Nadeau
I loved the title of this book so much that I had to add it to this list of great books about France. And when it comes to the content this non-fiction book contains? Well, for starters, Jean-Benoît and I have the same last name! Written by two Canadians, the book is a fun and incredibly brief introduction to French culture, and will definitely leave you wanting more (or maybe to even visit the country for yourself!)
How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits – by Caroline de Maigret, Anne Berest, Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan
If you’ve spent any times looking at flat lays on Instagram these past few years, then no doubt you’ll have come across the sarcastic (and pretty witty) ‘How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are’. Filled with little quips and beautiful illustrations and imagery, you can read my full review of the book here.
The Little Black Book of Paris – by Vesna Neskow
You know those recommendations from a friend, the best kind of suggestions that you always want to remember but never quite can? Well, The Little Black Book of Paris is that friend, and you’ll want to bring it along with you when wandering through Paris. Filled with maps and small suggestions, you’ll want to purchase the hard copy rather than the Kindle edition!
If you’re looking for one ‘go-to’ guide when it comes to France, then I highly recommend the Rough Guide to France. Filled with expert tips and suggested itineraries, you can’t go wrong by packing a small guide in your backpack for when your technology fails or you simply want to read a little non-fiction!