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French-themed books to read in April 2021

Three much-needed escapism reads this month: A witty guide to French living, an insider's travel guide to the Canal du Midi and a romance set in Paris

April's round-up of three good escapism reads linked to France Pic: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living (Paperback) Mark Greenside

Skyhorse, €15 ISBN: 9781510765474

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living (Paperback) Mark Greenside

American writer Mark Greenside first released his witty compendium to (almost) mastering French living in 2018 and now the paperback version is set to hit the shelves. You will have to wait until June 10 to get your hands on a copy though.

Greenside describes the trials and tribulations of getting by in Pleubian, the small Breton town where he spends his summers.

His anecdotal experiences are likely to resonate with many foreigners who come to call France their home, temporarily or long-term. He tackles a variety of different topics, including the French language and driving.

“Luckily, over the years, I’ve learned a few things about driving in France: navigating the fantasy of speed limits; gauging the safest distance between vehicles in centimeters; parking anywhere I can,” he writes.

“I’ve also learned about relations with other drivers (no guns, horns, yellow, or digital finger waving), pedestrians (never have the right of way; crossing the street – any street – is a life-threatening, nearer-to-God experience), and police (speak Franglish). But the most basic rule of driving in France is this: there is no grid. There is no straight line to anything.”

There is no question that Greenside is as confused as he is charmed by France. This endearing book is comically written but his love for La France and, especially Brittany, shine through.

The best part of it, though, is that for anyone who has moved to France and felt they are alone in being besotted and befuddled by the country, you will soon realise that you are in good company.

Canal du Midi: The Ultimate Guide Andrea Hoffmann

Adlard Coles £14.99, ISBN: 9781472980038

Canal du Midi book

The Canal du Midi is a 240-km long canal that stretches from Toulouse to Sète on the Med coast. It was built in the 17th century at a time when France was the centre of civil engineering excellence.

It is now a Unesco world heritage site and is recognised as one of the most beautiful and popular waterways in Europe.

Travel journalist Andrea Hoffmann’s new book is a handy travel guide to the canal, providing all the practical information and sightseeing opportunities boaters need for their trip and combining it with beautiful photography and maps to help along the way.

The guide includes Hoffmann’s insider travel tips, such as where to stop along the canal, sightseeing highlights and the best restaurants to eat at along the way.

There is also essential practical nautical information such as how and where to charter, locks, bridges and berths, etc. There is even a concise English-French dictionary with the most important vocabulary included.

The Covid-19 pandemic has likely set off itchy-foot syndrome in many regular travellers and there is nothing like a travel guide, especially one as elegantly put together as this one, to inspire ideas for future trips that will be, with hope, possible this summer.

If you like striking design and beautiful nature, this guide could be the ticket to your next French adventure.

Uncoupling (hardcover) Lorraine Brown

Orion, £11.99 ISBN: 9781409198383

Uncoupling book

Books have long been a source of escapism and this need is all the more prevalent now thanks to the interminable global pandemic.

Uncoupling offers escapism in its purest form. And let’s face it, there could be no better setting for a romance book that the city of love itself, Paris.

That may be a bit of a cliché but it does not detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The set up: Hannah, a young woman, finds herself alone in a crowded Parisian train station having accidentally split from her partner, Si, on an overnight train ride from Venice to Amsterdam.

The twist: In a hurry to catch a connecting train, Hannah falls over a stranger, Léo. Thus, we have all the ingredients for a frenetic romance.

The best element of the book for the true escapism: the whistle-stop tour Léo gives to Hannah is just as much a tour for the readers. The book plunges us into the scents and sights of Paris life through beautiful imagery.

There is some romance too. And humour. For those looking to “get away” during Covid restrictions, this could be the answer.

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