The author Peter Mayle, champion of all things Provence, here in a final volume of all new writing, offers ... recollections from his twenty-five years in the South of France, lessons learned, culinary delights enjoyed, and changes observed
Many a reader has reveled in Peter Mayle’s musings on the expat life in southern France since A Year in Provence arrived in 1989. It’s only fitting that he give us one more taste in My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now ... Mayle set a new course for travel writing with his self-deprecating account of an English couple’s adventures fixing up a home in a culture that does not mark time like Big Ben. Other installments followed as he and his wife, Jennie, learned French, made friends and became part of the Provençale community ... This flawless novel, written in 2013 and newly published in paperback, is an epic tragedy graced with tendrils of hope. Tragic, too, is the reality that its gifted author, Canadian Richard Wagamese, is no longer with us, having passed into the mystery in 2017.
It’s a short, breezy read on small-format pages, enhanced by eight pages of Jennie Mayle’s full-color photographs of things mentioned in the text, such as a sunflower field, a rare snowfall, a mobile wine bar at the farmers’ market. Though concise, it’s full of thoughtful reflections and trenchant observations of how things have changed—and remained the same—over Mayle’s time there ... The book’s variety seems a bit scattershot, but it all adds up to a better understanding of the people and culture of Provence. Mayle is astute at capturing the rhythm of life there, which he says visitors often don’t get ... In his first Provencal memoir, Mayle was the outsider trying to break in. Here, he has the perspective of a seasoned local, pointing out the laughable missteps of the tourists (and his own foreign guests) who flood the region each spring and summer ... It’s wonderful to get to go on one more journey with him and remember why we fell in love with him and his writing.
My Twenty-Five Years is, itself, a retrospective, beginning with the author looking back to the nervous thrill he and Jennie experienced with their decision to move to France ... Mayle’s writings, not only inspired people to explore the French countryside, they encouraged travelers to explore the world differently. When Mayle took the plunge, he noted that the vast majority of Brits abroad drove around with a car full of biscuits, marmalade and teas — all the comforts of home, so they would never have to be inconvenienced by having to eat the local fare. By contrast, the Mayles left it all behind, fully immersing themselves in the food, drink, language and culture of their adopted home. They would not be ex-pats with a picturesque hillside home secretly stuffed with packages from Marks and Sparks. When friends from England visited and offered to bring down British staples, even single malt scotch, the Mayles politely declined. They had grown to prefer French pastis.