Author Antoine Laurain selects his seven favourite books set in Paris—the city of his birth that inspired his latest book, The Portrait—an elegant modern fable about a Parisian antiques dealer.  

The Occupation Trilogy

by Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, brings occupied Paris during the Second World War to life in this acclaimed trilogy, and explores the blurred boundaries between resistance and collaboration.

His first novel, the satirical La Place de l'Étoile, rigorously questions the myths of the Gaullist era. The Night Watch follows the story of a man torn between the Gestapo and the resistance. The third book Ring Roads tells of a son's search for his missing Jewish father.

Read these to discover the language and atmosphere of one of the best French authors, who will guide you into a strange Paris filled with schemes and shadows.

 

Death on Credit 

by Louis Ferdinand Céline

This mesmerising book by one of the greatest and most controversial 20th-century novelists offers an unforgettable reading experience, mixing stark realism with imaginative fantasy.

Death on Credit was inspired by Céline’s real-life occupation working as a doctor in deprived districts of Paris, and his alter ego in the book is also a medical professional who treats the poor. It offers a flavour of the bustling worlds of ordinary Parisians as they go about their everyday lives, struggling with illness, making a living, and lack of education.

Here you’ll find a style of writing unlike anything that came before it. Céline depicts the Paris of the little man. A Paris that no longer exists.

 

Life: A User’s Manual

Georges Perec

Perec’s book was praised by Italo Calvino himself as "The last major event in the history of the novel". It follows the story of Serge Valene as he embarks on a painting of the building he has made his home for the last 60 years.

In each chapter, the story moves around the apartment block revealing an intriguingly diverse cast of characters in a series of ever more fanciful tales, which includes an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime, and a vengeful murderer…

A masterpiece. A fresco that follows the inhabitants of a Haussmann era apartment block through the generations. Captivating—and often crazy!

 

Signed, Picpus

by Georges Simenon

Born in Belgium in 1903, Georges Simenon is best known in Britain as the author of the Maigret novels, and his prolific output of over 400 books and short stories have made him a household name in continental Europe.

In Signed, Picpus, Inspector Maigret unravels a web of lies stretching from Paris to Nice. He must decipher a maze of clues and suspects’ motives to work out what connects a mysterious note predicting a fortuneteller’s death, a man locked in Paris apartment, and a South American heiress before it’s too late.

Simenon is the father of the modern crime novel. Take a walk through the streets of Paris with Inspector Maigret on the trail of the mysterious Picpus.

 

Vernon Subutex 1

by Virginie Despentes

A cult French social satire that has taken Europe by storm, and casts a penetrating light on the dark underbelly of modern urban life.

Vernon once owned a legendary music shop in Bastille. But when he can’t keep the struggling shop open anymore, he becomes homeless on the streets of Paris. However, Vernon has a back-up plan. In his possession are the sought-after final recordings of a famous musician who recently died, leading a crowd of people onto his trail desperate to get their hands on them…

This book paints a picture of a contemporary Paris filled with memorable and very modern characters. It’s the first in a trilogy.

 

Les Misérables

by Victor Hugo  

The book on Paris and France. I’m sure you’ve heard of it!

Hugo’s masterpiece, which has inspired numerous stage and screen adaptions (including the recent outing starring Hugh Jackman) is a sweeping tale of love, loss, valour, and passion. It follows the fortunes and misfortunes of convict Jean Valjean as he attempts to build a new life for himself, and his pursuit by the dogged policeman Javert. Stories of compassion, heroism and injustice unfold against an epic backdrop leading up to the July Revolution of 1830 on the streets of Paris. It ranks as one of the greatest novels of all time.

 

The Da Vinci Code

by Dan Brown 

This exhilarating thriller and international bestseller mixes a murder investigation and a race to unlock an ancient mystery.

Professor Robert Langdon is in Paris to deliver a lecture. At the reception that follows, he’s due to meet a revered curator from the world-famous Louvre museum. But the curator never shows up and later that night is found dead with baffling clues left behind. A race against time begins when Robert is made a suspect, and he must team up with French cryptologist Sophie Neveau to solve a trail of mystifying clues before an ancient truth is lost forever.

I’ve chosen this one because it all starts at the Louvre and all ends at the Louvre. Plus it’s a very entertaining novel.

 

Antoine Laurain is a bestselling author of such novels as The President’s Hat (adapted for television in France), The Red Notebook, and French Rhapsody. His latest book, The Portrait, is an elegant modern fable about a Parisian antiques dealer whose life is changed forever on discovering an 18th century painting that bears an uncanny resemblance to him.

 

The Portrait by Antoine Laurain is available now from Gallic Books (£8.99 paperback original)

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