Au­thor cap­tured charm of ru­ral life

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES -

PETER Mayle, a writer and for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive who trans­formed his fum­bling ad­just­ment to life in the south of France into the best-sell­ing

Year in Provence and other books – send­ing thou­sands of peo­ple to the Mediter­ranean in search of the sun, food and wine – died on Jan­uary

18 at a hospi­tal near his home in Lour­marin, France. He was 78.

His pub­lish­ing com­pany, Al­fred Knopf, an­nounced the death. The cause was not dis­closed.

Mayle and his wife bought a ram­shackle 200-year-old stone house in Provence in 1986.

“We saw it one af­ter­noon and had men­tally moved in by din­ner,” he wrote in A Year in Provence.

A com­i­cal cast of lo­cal trades­men came and went, work­ing only when in the mood, as the house re­mained un­in­hab­it­able.

Mayle made lit­tle progress on the novel he hoped to write, send­ing let­ters to his agent de­scrib­ing his frus­tra­tions. The agent sug­gested he shelve the novel and write about life in Provence. Soon enough, Mayle de­vel­oped a grow­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for the Mediter­ranean pace of life, built around vis­its to the town cafe, where timeta­bles were ig­nored in favour of con­ver­sa­tion, crusty bread and a bot­tle of wine.

He wrote A Year in Provence as a chron­i­cle of a cal­en­dar year, be­gin­ning with a New Year’s Day lunch and end­ing with a Christ­mas at the house, ren­o­vated at long last.

Pub­lished in Bri­tain in 1989 and in the United States a year later, it was ex­pected to sell only a few thou­sand copies. But the book caught on through word of mouth, as read­ers were charmed by Mayle’s evo­ca­tion of a ru­ral world where the only thing that seemed to mat­ter was the qual­ity of life.

“I con­fess to hav­ing read this de­light­ful mem­oir not once, not twice, but four times now,” critic Michele Slung wrote in her Wash­ing­ton Post re­view.

Prac­ti­cally ev­ery page throbbed with mouth-wa­ter­ing de­scrip­tions of the lo­cal food and wine.

More than five mil­lion copies of the book were sold world­wide.

Mayle quickly fol­lowed with a sec­ond best­seller in 1991, Tou­jours Provence. A Bri­tish TV se­ries was based on A Year in Provence, and soon hordes of vis­i­tors were ar­riv­ing, crowd­ing the streets, knock­ing on Mayle’s door, pic­nick­ing on his doorstep, walk­ing through his prop­erty and splash­ing in his back­yard pool.

There was a back­lash from lo­cals and Bri­tish ex­pa­tri­ates, who ac­cused Mayle of ru­in­ing their paradise.

Mayle moved to New York’s

Long Is­land, for sev­eral years and then back to Provence in the 1990s. – Wash­ing­ton Post


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