Notes from the Cévennes: Half a Lifetime in Provincial France by Adam Thorpe - review by Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

La Vie en Prose

Notes from the Cévennes: Half a Lifetime in Provincial France


Bloomsbury Continuum 242pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Note the subtitle: ‘Half a Lifetime’. Take that, A Year in Provence. To write about la France profonde with authority, you have to put in the hours.

Adam Thorpe and his family moved from England to the rugged Cévennes region of southern France in 1990, renting a former olive mill for three years before buying a rambling old house at the edge of a village in the foothills of the mountains. Now they divide their time between there and a flat in Nîmes, where the novelist and poet is professor of English at an art school.

This collection of vignettes covers town and village life, local history, wildlife, environmental issues and politics. The ‘Brit in France’ genre often depicts la vie en rose, but these essays, although shot through with humour, offer a more astringent view.

The Nîmes flat is above a noisy cafe and an ongoing battle with the proprietor sees a sleep-deprived Thorpe storming in well after 1am in his dressing gown, grabbing a bottle off the counter and waving it about. An adjacent property infested with thuggish young drug dealers is another source of anxiety.

Idyllic in some ways, the village where he lives is also a place of ‘unhealed wounds and seething enmities’. Two of its families have been feuding since the Second World War, when a collaborationist member of one was killed by a member of the other, who had joined

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