Author captured charm of rural life
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