As Audrey Hepburn famously said, ‘Paris is always a good idea’. Just the name conjures up images of strolling along the banks of the Seine, inhaling the smell of fresh croissants and café crème and gazing with awe at the gothic architecture of Notre Dame, the views from the Eiffel Tower and the chic fashions in shop windows.
This ‘City of Light’ is steeped in history, from the French Revolution to the Belle Époque to the outbreak of the Second World War, and every lamplight corner and cobblestoned backstreet tells a story. Famously, it has always been a mecca for artists and writers; Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemmingway and James Joyce, all lived and worked here, and the literary tradition continues with many writers today still being inspired by this magical city.
I too, am one of those writers and I spent a glorious week in a tiny rented apartment in Montmartre, researching my new novel. But for those of you who don’t have time to jump on the Eurostar, here’s my list of favourite books set in Paris. Seven books, one for each day of the week I spent there, and each one will have you falling in love with this city from page one.
- Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation – Charles Glass
This doesn’t sound like easy reading, but it’s a fascinating and gripping account of what happened to a group of American expatriates who chose to stay behind after the invasion. This is an incredibly well researched book and through the different characters allows the reader an insight into Nazi-occupied Paris in the early 1940s.
- My Life in France – Julia Child
When the author arrived in France from California in 1948 she barely spoke a word of French. Even more amazing, is that she didn’t know the first thing about cooking. This book shows the transformation from student to master. As someone who has never watched a single episode of MasterChef, trust me, you don’t have to be a foodie to love this one.
- A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemmingway
Probably the most famous memoir ever written about Paris, Hemingway’s account of his life in Paris in the 1920s is one of those books you’re unable to put down. It captures the spirit of the time and romance of the past and details his encounters with such literati as F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, while also talking more personally about his relationship with his first wife Hadley. If you have ever wanted to know what it was like back then, this slim book is the next best thing to time travel.
- The Most Beautiful Walk in the World – John Baxter
This memoir follows in the footsteps of the author as he sets off on the trail of Paris’ legendary artists and writers. Along the way he introduces us to the brilliant cast of characters; Ernest Hemmingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso, and the places they loved. This off-the-beaten track guidebook is as fascinating as it is charming.
- Notre-Dame de Paris – Victor Hugo
More commonly known as ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ this classic by Victor Hugo is full of dark passion. Anyone that has seen the movie, will assume this novel, set in medieval Paris, is all about the Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer and his unrequited love for the beautiful Esmeralda, but it is so much more than that.
- Perfume – Patrick Suskind
I saw the movie some years ago and was both horrified and enthralled by the opening scene where the murderer, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is born under a fish-gutting table in a market place 18th century Paris. It wasn’t until recently I read the actual novel… and believe it or not, it’s even more gruesome. Gripping and evocative, this is one book that, pardon the pun, truly gets up your nose.
- Love From Paris – Alexandra Potter
OK, so I couldn’t resist adding my book to the list. My new book is a love letter to this most romantic of cities that acted not merely as a backdrop, but almost as another character in my story. Paris added romance and magic to my novel, and gave me what I have been told is the best ending to any book I’ve written.
Paris, Je t’aime.