Thursday, November 10, 2011

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence by Peter Mayle

London-based ad man Simon Shaw has had enough – enough massaging clients' egos, enough battling other agency directors for supremacy, enough dodging mutiny attempts from younger colleagues. In grey, cold London, he watches his marriage dissolve and realizes that the career that once excited him now seems like pointless drudgery, albeit with a lovely paycheque. Frustrated and burnt out, he decides to put the paycheque to good use, and heads to the south of France for a vacation in the sun.

On the advice of a well-traveled friend, he heads to an undiscovered corner of paradise in Provence called Isle-sur-Sorgue. Author Peter Mayle does a wonderful job capturing the sensual experience of the region, capturing the light, smells, tastes, and even local speech patterns in frothy prose. Through a series of misadventures, Simon's Porche is disabled and he gets stuck in the sleepy town, where he meets a pretty Frenchwoman named Nicole. They discover a partially developed piece of property with a fantastic view, left to rot since the recession ate away the project's funding.

He grudgingly returns to London, but not for long – the magnetic pull of Nicole and Isle-sur-Sorgue have him making frequent return trips, and his work suffers. When Nicole floats the idea of purchasing the old, partially developed gendarmerie to create a hotel, Simon's decision comes quickly – within months, he and his butler Ernest have moved to Isle-sur-Sorgue, and construction resumes. Meanwhile, a crew of colourful local crooks are plotting an elaborate bank robbery. As the date of the bank robbery and hotel opening march closer, Simon finds that running a luxurious hotel while ignoring local mobsters isn't so simple as he'd hoped.

Mayle's light prose and dry humour keep the capers squarely in the realm of cozy suspense, and as the tension builds the reader is taken on a sumptuous tour of the delights hidden in rural Provence. Mayle creates a memorable ensemble cast of sympathetic characters, each with their own distinct voices and endearing foibles. While the pacing isn't always perfect, readers longing for a taste of the good life in Provence will certainly enjoy Hotel Pastis' rich, earthy comic romp.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on November 10th. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

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