Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brief Book Review

I just heard a Book-on-CD of Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence". It is about a condescendingly superior English couple who buy the most ever-so-charming old farmhouse in Provence and spend a year wandering around and having various workmen fix up the house for them. Or rather not fix it up. Most of the book is devoted to how charming the indifference to punctuality and getting things done on time the Provencale workmen are. Aren't they quaint?

The workmen and indeed everyone else in Provence are presented as cartoons, charming for their absurdity, but vastly less than equals to the ever-so-lofty Mayles. The Mayles who have achieved their elevated station in life by making a lot of money in advertising. Can't get more dignified and important than advertising. Especially shitty, primitive, brainless British advertising.

The delays and difficulties pile up and the refurbishing of the house which was supposed to have taken a few weeks or a month or two at most, drags on from Spring until December. Much of the book is taken up with their travails in not getting their house fixed.

At no point does Peter Mayle or his wife ever take it into their heads to pick up a tool for any part of the work whatsoever. Never in the entire year does that seem to have crossed either of their minds. Apparently because people of their class simply don't do such things. The ever-so-cute protestations of helplessness are the thinnest veneer over class pretensions.

There is even an example of a neighboring farm family in which the mechanically-inclined wife does the maintenance and repairs on the tractors and trucks. The Mayles find this quaint too, but not for a moment an object example.

Nor does it ever occur to either of them, at least not in the text of this book, that contracts can contain "timely performance" clauses, which impose monetary penalties on contractors who fail to meet deadlines. And that such clauses are standard in construction contracts.

While the workmen may be Provencale, it is the Mayles who are provincial. The disappearing contractor is as familiar as the sunrise in construction work all over the world, and there is nothing quaint or cute about it, nothing particularly Provencale. Which is why there are timely performance clauses. But the condescending and superior Mayles seem not to know that.

So the whole story, which is intended as a whimsical look at the quaint and amusing Provencales by a tolerantly superior English couple, is actually a look at the incompetence, ignorance, and class-pretensions of a pair of condescending morons.

The part of the book that is of interest is the descriptions of the various restaurants and the various meals that the Mayles "et" in them. ("Et" is the pronunciation given when the word intended is one we would render as "ate" or "eaten".)

Only when they are talking about food and wine are the Mayles sincerely appreciative and not condescending. There is LOTS of description of various dishes, of mushrooms gathered in the woods, of terrines, of breads, of all sorts of wines. It is only when they are genuinely appreciative that they are attractive and sympathetic.



  1. When reading books like this does it bother you when you want to character to get their asses out of their heads but you know that is how the story goes?

  2. When reading books like this does it ever bother you when you wish the character would get their heads out of their asses, but that is not how the story is, in the end they are just ignorant as ever?

  3. Actually, DazedGirl, I write angry reviews because there is no convenient way to slap the author repeatedly which would definitely be my first choice.