14 July La Fête Nationale: A Salmagundi of French Literature

Prise de la Bastille by   Jean-Pierre Houël Source:Wikipedia

Prise de la Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël

Today is a holiday here in France, marking the celebration of la fête nationale or as we know it in English Bastille Day, commemorating 14 July 1789 when the population fearing an attack by the royal military stormed the Bastille prison and released the many political prisoners in what became a symbol of the end to the rule of the monarchy and the beginning of independence.

There will be a military parade in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris and here in Aix-en-Provence and most towns in France there will be organised displays of fireworks to commemorate.

To celebrate the National Holiday, I am following the initiative of Marina Sofia at Finding Time To Write to highlight some recently read and upcoming French reads, now available in English, here is my salmagundi of French Literature!

Click on the title to read the review and read to the end to find the definition of that tasty word for the day Salmagundi:

Two French Books I am looking forward to reading:

Poisoning (3)

The Poisoning Angel by John Teule

translated by Melanie Florence

This book is actually to be published today 14 July 2014 and the author is a well-known name in French contemporary literature. In fact I have one of his books in French on the shelf already.

This one is based on a true but gruesome story of one of the most notorious serial poisoners that France has ever known and was described by the Sunday Telegraph as:

“a bawdy romp one minute, a gruesome tragedy the next. The writing is beautiful, witty, grisly and moving, and reeks of authenticity.”

Let’s hope all that comes off in translation.

Vatican Cellars

The Vatican Cellars by André Gide

translated by Julian Evans

This book will be published in August 2014 to mark the centenary of the book’s first publication. It is set in the 1890’s around a group of ingenious fraudsters who claim that the Pope has been imprisoned and a false Pope enthroned in his place.

I haven’t read anything by this author, but he sounds like he caused quite a sensation with this novel and others, as he took it upon himself to explore morality in his work and was a major influence on the writing of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947 and one year after he died (in 1951) his works were placed on the Vatican’s list of banned books.

Three French Books I Read This Year:

Nagasaki (2)

Nagasaki by Eric Faye

translated by Emily Boyce

A short novella, based on a true story of an event that happened in Japan, that will make you check your fridge contents and ensure you lock the door at night.


The Foundling Boy by Michel Deon

translated by Julian Evans

Coming of age story of a young boy left as a baby on a doorstep, who grows up and has an insatiable need to travel and experience the world. The sequel soon to be translated into English as well.

People in Photo

The People In the Photo by Hélène Gestern

translated by Emily Boyce,Ros Schwartz

A wonderful epistolary novel about a young woman searching for answers about events in her mother’s life before she was born, a photo provides a clue to those she knew.

Two Great Books Set in France:

All the Light

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

Paris and Saint-Malo pre and during WWII following the lives of two children and their growth into adolescence, Marie-Laure who lost her sight at six and Werner who lost his parents and is raised in an orphanage. An excellent story that leads to the crossing of paths of these two characters and wonderfully evocative of place.

I Always Loved You

I Always Loved You

by Robin Oliveira

An insightful historical novel about the American painter Mary Cassatt, her life in late 1800’s Paris as she struggles to establish her name in the art world, enduring a life-long though fractious relationship with the impressionist painter and sculptor Edgar Degas.


  1. a mixed dish consisting usually of cubed poultry or fish, chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, onions, oil, etc., often served as a salad.
  2. any mixture or miscellany.

 Bonne Fête!




35 thoughts on “14 July La Fête Nationale: A Salmagundi of French Literature

  1. Great group of books, Claire. I read Gide’s The Immoralist when I was at university, but nothing else by him – though I’ve had his autobiographical book If It Die on my shelf for a while.
    The novel about Mary Cassatt sounds particularly interesting.
    I’ve noted some titles down to be read.
    Enjoy the holiday!


    • Interesting to hear you mention Gide Eric, I wasn’t aware of his work, but am intrigued. Did you enjoy The Immoralist?

      Robin Oliveira writes excellent historical fiction, pity about the weak title, but a great book and insight into the artists lives and the influence of the salon on what was acceptable art at the time, the impressionists really were a pack of rebels!


  2. Some very tasty titles, here, Claire, and a cunning ploy to make us read to the end! Loved The People in the Photo and I think I already have I Always Loved You on my list thanks to your review. A very happy holiday to you!


    • I am glad you enjoyed my word of the day and appropriately it originates from French 🙂 It was a last minute thought to add the definition, not a bad one either! I love the word, it reminds me a little of cornucopia 🙂


    • So do I Alex and this is a good one, and especially given it is about a woman artist, for whom it was that much more difficult to be recognised. I didn’t know much about Mary Cassatt before I read the book and really enjoyed it.


  3. A very enticing selection of books, Claire. I’ve had The People in the Photo on my list of possible purchases for a while now, and you’ve caught my attention with your description of The Vatican Cellars – I’m very keen to hear more about that one! I very much enjoyed Nagasaki; an unsettling read in more ways than one.

    Enjoy the fireworks!


      • OK, now I’m going to look like a total geek, but it was the name of a literary/satirical magazine founded by Washington Irving at the start of the 19th century – that’s where I knew it from. And the reason I know Washington Irving at all – he’s been largely forgotten outside the US – is because I was mesmerised by his Tales of the Alhambra after visiting Granada as a child.


  4. Well — the last two books on your list are probably the top two for me (not that you were prioritizing). I’ve read short stories by Anthony Doerr, and there’s no escaping the attention being given to his latest novel. Robin Oliveira’s book is also in my TBR — I love the work of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, not to mention the other artists that figure in what seems like a rich historical novel.


    • Ah, they are the two that are written originally in English – so not actually French literature :), perhaps they evoke more of a sense of place and the authors know the things that English language readers like to read about in France – artists and writers living in Paris for example. You will love the Robin Oliveira book, she’s a wonderful writer and chooses really interesting subjects and characters..


      • I found a book by André Gide in my own little library! I must have bought it in a second-hand book store ( 3 euro’s) in 2012 when I started my reading challenge. Book is dated 1902, “L’Immoralliste”. I have no idea what to expect but the back cover reveals “une paire ciseaux …un coup engouffrer dans son burnous”. Pair of scissors plunged into a hooded cloak worn especially by Arabs. Now I’ll have to see what this is all about and let you know!


  5. I haven’t come across any of these but in keeping with Bastille Day, I did read a little bit from A Tale of Two Cities and thoroughly enjoyed the mountain climb on the Tour…I love those epic days where the peloton splits all over the place.


  6. Love the way you set this post up–French books you want to read and ones you read this year, and books set in France. I haven’t read any of these yet, but am adding a few to my TBR list, especially the ones by Gide and Faye. Nagasaki sounds so compelling. Bonne fête un peu en retard!


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  8. Thanks including the titles from France for us to peruse (so glad you left out The Harry Quebert Affair which I loathed!). I have Nagasaki which I’m so anxious to read; when I bought it I thought it was going to fit my Japanese Literature Challenge, it may by theme, not author. I also have I Have Always Loved You. But, I must by All The Light You Cannot See which keeps popping up all over the place with great praise.


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