Despite having learnt French for what feels like millennia, reading can still be a bit of a slog for me – I just started Zola’s La Fortune des Rougon, and I love it, but I keep getting caught out by 19th century words for ‘rascal’ or ‘crook’… not likely to come in handy when chatting with my in-laws.
Anyway, I thought I’d put together a list of some of the easiest reads I’ve discovered in French. All but one have been published in the last 10-15 years and are written in pretty colloquial, current language, without too much description or dated terms. They’re all really good reads, too!
Frangine – Marion Brunet
‘Frangine’ is slang for ‘soeur’, and this is a really great YA novel about a brother and sister with two mums, and how the siblings deal with bullying at school. It tackles the same-sex parent topic really well, realistically but also positively. No sign of an English translation, which is a real shame, otherwise I’d be recommending it to all and sundry.
La mécanique du coeur – Mathias Malzieu
A great fantasy about the travels of a boy (born on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh!) who has a cuckoo-clock contraption for a heart and is told he can never fall in love. Mathias Malzieu is the lead singer of a band called Dionysos and they also released an album of the same title, with songs based on the story.
Oscar et la dame rose – Eric-Emmanuel Schmidt
(Check out that cover – the graphic designers really outdid themselves.) Super sweet but very sad, this is the story of a little boy in a cancer ward and his friendship with ‘la dame rose’, an elderly patient. I’d also recommend Schmidt’s L’enfant de Noé or La femme au miroir, though the latter is a bit longer and more difficult to read.
Superfragilibus – Carmen Bramly
Carmen Bramly is Léa Seydoux’s niece and published her first book, Pastel fauve, at the age of 15. I’m not jealous at all. This is her second novel and is the story of Doodoowa and Jules, rather world-weary Parisian teens who escape a heatwave for Normandy and London. (Always funny to see the UK from a French POV – we are either super posh or basically Sid Vicious.)
Mes illusions donnent sur la cour – Sacha Sperling
Another tale of cynical, smoking teens from a then-18-year-old author – precocious literary types seem to be ten a centime in France. It’s a story of a bored teenage boy who slips into drink and drugs, not particularly original but for some reason really compelling – I zoomed through it during a three-hour bout of insomnia one night.
Bonjour, Tristesse – Françoise Sagan
Not contemporary, obviously (it was published in 1954) but a bit of a must for anyone with an interest in French lit. It’s the story of 17-year-old Cécile, who is spending the summer in the French Riviera with her womanising father and his mistress – a nice, quick read, perfect for summer. (Or to distract you from this miserable British January.)
And with that, back to Zola… if you have any other French recommendations, contemporary or not, please let me know!