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Notes from the Cevennes: Half a Lifetime in Provincial France by Adam Thorpe

Notes from the Cevennes: Half a Lifetime in Provincial France by Adam Thorpe
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Adam Thorpe, a “distinguished English novelist born in Paris in 1956”, has lived with his family in the Cévennes mountains, in southern France, for the past quarter-century, said Philip Womack in The Spectator. In his new book, he describes his life there through a “series of tightly controlled, involving vignettes”. While some of these are very funny – as in one “hilarious scene where the villagers take their postman hostage in protest at the post office’s imminent closure” – the overall mood is one of constant struggle. Thorpe has had to contend not only with leaks and storms and the general precariousness of the novelist’s life, but also, more recently, with the worrying implications of Brexit.

This book certainly isn’t one of those “potboilers” about swapping life in England for an idyllic existence abroad, said Kate Kellaway in The Observer. On the contrary, it’s a bracing “corrective to unchecked dreams of living in France”. Yet despite the sombre tone – and Thorpe’s occasional evasiveness about his feelings – there is much to enjoy. Thorpe writes well about the “ancient, human quirkiness” of his house and about the marvellous view from his garden. He is good, too, on the oddities of the locals: a portrait of an ex-1968 rebel who now obsessively hoards junk is both “intriguing and troubling”. Ulverton (1992), Thorpe’s “masterly” debut, is a “portrait of a village drawn through time”, said Celia Brayfield in The Times. In a similar spirit, here he explores how the history of his village – and indeed of the entire region – lives on in the present. With its “ancient customs and buildings”, and “unforgiving soil”, the Cévennes is a place that hasn’t lost touch with its past. In his efforts to uncover it, Thorpe makes an “erudite and beguiling companion”.

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