June 20th, 2011

This is the time of year when Francophiles long to make a pilgrimage to South France and sit in the sun in the lee of a limestone scar, drinking wine, listening to dry, rustling vegetation stirring before hot winds and making important choices about food, shade, sleep and whether or not to move. Failing which, and stuck in England as they may be, there are four books and four films which combine inextricably to give a near South France experience….
Most non-French readers, including me, come to Marcel Pagnol’s two linked novels Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources by way of the two celebrated films of the same name directed by Claude Berri in the late 1980’s. Only now have I read the novels on which the films are based, published in 1991 by QPD and Andre Deutsch.
What a pleasure and joy to read such well-observed, bucolic tales. They have a wonderfully harsh, peasant edge of meanness, perfidy, murder, deceit and revenge. Forget A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle which is a soft-haired puppy dog chewing caramel chocolates by comparison. These are two tough stories about what happens when innocents get done over by the ignorant, self serving, mean-spirited communities into which they stray. And guess what? The innocent are revenged and the guilty suffer the true torments of hell. Very satisfactory.
Pagnol (1895 – 1974) also wrote two accounts of his childhood which were also filmed, this time by Yves Robert: La Gloire de mon père and Le Chateau de ma mère Taken together these books and the films offer great summer reading and viewing. You’ll probably need to track down a copy of the books via www.abebooks.com, whilst DVDs of the films will have to come from one of the sites that carries these older titles, but it’ll be worth it.
As for Marcel Pagnol, his Wikipedia entryis instructive for readers and writers alike and in describing his careers in writing and film explains why his work sits so well in both media.

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