‘A Year In Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies aged 78

Peter Mayle, who wrote the best-selling novel "A Year In Provence", has died at the age of 78, his publishers announced.

'A Year In Provence' author Peter Mayle dies aged 78
Photo: AFP
Following a short illness, the British author died on Thursday in a hospital near his beloved home in southern France, publishing house Alfred A. Knopf said.
“A Year In Provence”, his memoir about his first 12 months after relocating to the south of France, was released in 1990 with an initial print run of 3,000.
The witty tale of moving into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the lavender-scented, remote countryside, and adapting to the slower Provencal way of life, went on to sell six million copies in 40 languages.
Its infectious warmth for the south of France and the local lifestyle and culture fired up the imaginations of thousands of Britons and others to seek the same romantic dream.
Alfred A. Knopf announced on Twitter late Thursday that Mayle, who had written “multiple best-selling books about life in Provence, died early today at a hospital near his home in the south of France.”
Mayle wrote several follow-on books, including “Toujours Provence” and “Encore Provence”.
Film director Ridley Scott, his friend and neighbour, directed the 2006 film “A Good Year”, starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, which was based on Mayle's the novel of the same name.
“It was all that humorous competitive spirit between the French and the English that Peter captured brilliantly,” Scott told BBC radio.
“It was quite true about the French — and it was quite true about the British.”
He was made a knight in France's Legion d'Honneur in 2002 for his services to French culture.
Scott said: “Peter was a very kind and successful man, and it was driven by his own spirit. You could feel whatever he did, whatever he touched was going to work.”
'Happy where I am' 
Mayle started out writing a series of educational works for children, such as sex education books including “Where Did I Come From?”.
The novelist who for millions of Britons epitomised the “European dream” of living in the sun, told AFP in 2016 that the UK's exit from the EU was a “disaster for them and for Europe.
“I am sad for the future of my English friends,” said Mayle, who took French nationality as Britain's EU membership referendum approached.
In September 2016, he reflected on his website of ways in which both he, and Provence, had changed or stayed the same, 25 years since his landmark novel came out.
“I am still easily lured from my desk by interesting distractions,” he wrote.
“A wine tasting, a promising young chef, the rumour of truffles to be found under a nearby oak, a murky hammam in Marseille, a vicious game of petanque in the village and, of course, the spectacle of daily life as seen from the cafe terrace.
“I don't want to go anywhere else. I'm happy where I am. That, I suppose, is contentment, and I shall always be grateful to the literary accident known as 'A Year In Provence' for helping me to achieve it.”


‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.