Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Delighted to say that my book Aix-en-Provence The Inside Story is being re-issued, brought up to date and now in colour throughout.  It ‘s 8 years since it was first published and I believe I am right in saying that it’s still the only book to cover the story of this fascinating town in English.

Where to buy it:  from http://www.lulu.com if you aren’t in Aix; but if you are, you can pick up a copy from Book-in-Bar in rue Joseph Cabassol. https://www.bookinbar.com/  Copies will be available from next week – call 04 42 26 60 07 to check.

It just remains to wish you all a happy and healthy summer as Aixcentric takes its annual break!







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Sometimes the best guide through history’s complications is a well-researched piece of fiction, and this is certainly the case with ‘The Art of Losing’ by Alice Zeniter, a novel which follows a family uprooted from 50s Algeria to an unwelcoming new life in France.

Spanning three generations across 70 years, the novel tells the story of colonisation and immigration, and how people adjust to loss.  In it, grandaughter Naima goes to Algeria herself to understand why her grandfather Ali went from being a wealthy landowner to being an immigrant factory-worker in a French sink estate.

It won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens and the Prix Littéraire du Monde, and has just come out in English (hard back).  ‘A startling exploration of the unspoken histories of the Algerian war’, Le Monde. 

I found it riveting and it helped me understand more of this complex period.  On a local note, Ali’s journey takes him through the south of France as he and his family are billeted at Jouques.  Recommended.

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Next year, a 19.2m euro, 3-year renovation will begin at the Cité du Livre: what is planned and what will happen to those famous books (see photo)? (more…)

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Salammbo by Alfons Mucha

The novel Salammbo by Gustav Flaubert (1821-1880) is the starting point for a wide-ranging exhibition coming to MuCEM this year.

From April 12 to June 5, 1858, Flaubert traveled to Tunisia to explore the locations of his novel. In a letter to Madame de Chantepie dated January 23, 1858, he described his anticipation: “I absolutely have to go to Africa. This is why, around the end of March, I will go back to the country of exotic dates. I am giddy with excitement. I will once again spend my days on horseback and my nights in a tent. What a happy breath I will take as I get onboard the steam boat in Marseille!”

Set in 3rd century BC Carthage, it shocked the public with its violence and sensuality….but was a best-seller.

Having not ventured past Madame Bovary, this is clearly one to put on my list…but we have til October 2021 when the exhibition opens.


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Today’s Guardian has a good piece on Marseille today: its overview of the city’s culture is underscored with links to books, films and TV series, precious memories for those of us who are, at present, far away from this vibrant city: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2021/feb/05/marseille-virtual-tour-books-film-food-music-photography

Most visitors to the city will soon feel the passion for the local football team, the legendary Olympique de Marseille.  In fact bars right across Provence are decorated with scarves and mascots in the team’s colours.  But there’s trouble at the Velodrome right now – so much so that it’s knocked the global pandemic off the front pages of La Provence this week, with words like ‘catastrophe’ peppering its prose.  I’d lost the plot so thanks again to the Guardian for sportingly providing a resume today.  https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/feb/03/marseille-title-contenders-chaos-andre-villas-boas-ligue-1

I hope Marseille soon gets back to a team they are proud of….Allez l’OM!

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Positive Signs from Aix Bookshops

Everyone in Aix seemed despondent when the Librarie de Provence in the cours Mirabeau closed its doors in 2019: the future for book sales seemed doomed as we all turned to online sources.  Then came 2020 which closed shops for weeks on end.

But a funny thing happened –  as retail went into a tail-spin, (more…)

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Repeat post for new followers

The bells at the cathedral in Aix rang out at 3pm, 11 November 1918, after 1561 days of silence, to mark the end of the fighting.  And by 6pm, the crowds were at the Rotonde to celebrate.

Of the 3000 men mobilised from Aix, 720 were dead, 190 disappeared and 500 left disabled. The story didn’t even end here for those left in the north of France. Despite having been away for four long years, the local regiment was involved in occupation and didn’t arrive back in town until 2nd September 1919.  What a homecoming that must have been.

But when I was writing my book (Aix-en-Provence: The Inside Story) and researching the chapter on the effect of World War 1 on Aix, itIMG_7013 seemed that there was some sort of controversy surrounding the troops from Provence but I couldn’t find details.

Then came ‘La Faute au Midi’, a new book and exhibition, which told it all and it was truly an appalling story.

Here is my post from 2014:


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With so much closed right now, at least we can open a good book, and what a treat to read ‘A Noel Killing’ set in Aix at Christmas – the festive, crowded, colourful Aix we all remember. It’s the latest in the series of novels set in town by local author M L Longworth. I’ve read them all so far and enjoy the intricate plots set in locations I know so well.

“Christmastime in the south of France is as beautiful as ever, but when a shady local businessman drops dead in the middle of the festivities, Verlaque and Bonnet must solve the case while keeping the holiday spirit alive.

“Antoine Verlaque, examining magistrate for the beautiful town of Aix-en-Provence, doesn’t like Christmas. The decorations appear in the shops far too early, festive tourists swarm the streets, and his beloved Cours Mirabeau is lined with chalets selling what he regards as tacky trinkets. But his wife and partner Marine Bonnet is determined to make this a Christmas they can both enjoy, beginning with the carol sing at the Cathedral Saint Sauveur, a beautiful service in a packed church.

“Just as the holiday cheer is in full swing, a man is poisoned, sending the community into a tailspin. The list of suspects, Verlaque and Bonnet quickly discover, almost fills the church itself, from the visiting vendors at the Christmas fair to the victim’s unhappy wife and his disgruntled business partner. In A Noël Killing, with the help of an ever-watchful young woman named France, the pair must solve the murder while the spirit of the season attempts to warm Verlaque’s stubborn heart.”

Treat yourself – or friends at Christmas.  Order from Book-in-Bar.

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Supporting the Bookshops of Aix

Local bookshops have decided to do all they can to supply much-needed reading material during the latest confinement.  So, while they are technically closed, they have installed tables in their doorways to facilitate a ‘clique et collecte’ operation.

  • You can’t go inside for a browse but…
  • You can order and pay online, and breeze up to collect your books which will be waiting for you.

If you want French books, Goulard in the cours Mirabeau will have orders placed online in the morning, available in the afternoon.  Their manager told La Provence that they would be losing money but felt they should continue to serve their customers.

And if you want books in English, where else but Book In Bar?  As well as click and collect, they will deliver in centre ville, or pop books in the post.  Contact them on 04 42 26 60 07 or bookinbar@gmail.com.

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If you can access the BBC, there’s a light-hearted look at the French Revolution on Friday evening. ‘Royal History’s Biggest Fibs’ is presented by the curator of the UK’s royal palaces, Lucy Worsley, who has a tendency to dress up and join in the fun.  But she is a serious historian and should have interesting insights.

‘In this film, Lucy Worsley explores some of the myths and fibs swirling around the Revolution of 1789 and the uprising that brought down the French royal family. This violent revolution became the blueprint of many future revolutions across the world. But what happened during this turbulent period is open to historical manipulation and interpretation.

Lucy discovers that Marie Antoinette never said ‘Let them eat cake’. This was a fib used by historians to help explain why the revolution happened. Historian Michael Rapport explains how the revolution was not started by starving peasants as many assume but was in fact sparked by a group of lawyers and property owners. Along the way, Lucy finds out that Maximilien Robespierre wasn’t simply a bloodthirsty revolutionary who relished violence and wanted to execute everyone who disagreed with him. In his earlier years, he stood against the death penalty and slavery and fought for the rights of France’s Jewish population. And the guillotine was invented by the revolutionaries not as a brutal punishment but as a more egalitarian and humanitarian form of execution.’

Details: Friday 6th November, 9pm British time; BBC2

Charleston farmhouse, home to the Bloomsbury group, and literary festival, now online

And, online this week, there’s a treat in the form of the annual literary festival at Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse that was the richly-decorated country hang-out for the Bloomsbury Group.

‘Join in conversations with a star-studded line-up including Maggie O’Farrell, Claire Tomalin, Monty Don, Elif Shafak and Carl Zimmer from the comfort of your own home as the Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival goes digital! The 10-day celebration of literature and ideas takes place online from 6 – 15 November with 16 free events.  All sessions premiere at Eastern Standard Time (EST) but most will be available to watch on YouTube after they have been streamed’.  Find out more here: http://www.charlestontocharleston.com/  The programme hasn’t anything specifically French but I’ve included this as probably we all need some diversion during lockdown!


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