Yes, I know, this book has been out for more than two decades and every book group and woman over 25 has read it–but somehow it missed me. It was gifted to me this year through a “random acts of kindness” challenge from a woman I deeply respect and who is always ready with a good book recommendation. How, oh how, did she know I hadn’t read Mayle I will never know, but I’m so glad she did.
I took Mayle with me for airplane reading because I suspected it would be soft and light, like lightly salted popcorn in the theater. I was not disappointed. The book recounts highlights of Mayle and his wife’s adventures after buying a house in the Lubéron and taking up year-round residence. Food and wine are recurring themes, as are misadventures with local contractors as the Mayles attempt to modernize their new home. Mayle added an afterword for the 20th-anniversary edition of the book and addresses the development that has taken place in the Lubéron since A Year became wildly popular all over the world. This was a question in the back of my mind throughout my reading–how did this book change the very quirky life he documented?
One of my favorite elements of Mayle’s year was the presence of his dogs in the background. I wished he had talked more about the dogs. Mayle’s romanticized view of the laborers was also frustrating. They work in the cold and the heat and are ever cheerful in Mayle’s eyes. They happily put their shoulders to moving a huge table during a break from work. Villagers and the family who tend the vines on the Mayles’ property pitch in to plant new vines and later the family harvest the grapes while the Mayles watched with amusement. What the hell was wrong with them that they didn’t roll up their sleeves and pitch in?
Don’t get me wrong–I enjoyed the book, but I couldn’t like Mayle and the privileged voice of his year.