The French Postmistress

post cover

The French Postmistress
By Julia Stagg
Hodder & Stoughton – £13.99

What I found particularly inviting about The French Postmistress, was its more than acute, accurate eye for village-life detail; especially French-village life detail, which, it has to be said, is considerably different to that of its English counterpart.

The reason I say this, is because I too, have spent a great deal of time in the Ariege region of France, where Julia Stagg’s book is principally based. A glorious region, simply steeped in history, riddled with magnificent beauty, and potentially plagued by the inexorable trajectory of never forgotten, bad blood. Not that I have ever been on the receiving end of any such village induced vendetta, but I have heard countless stories and witnessed for myself, the cruel manifestation thereof.

After all, the commune of Seix (pronounced, as in the resulting calamitous bouquet of varying cleavages; not to be mispronounced by yer catholic precipitation of embarrassed persuasion), consists only of a mere eight-hundred and fifty-two inhabitants. A place then, like the equally small commune of Fogas, around which this book is ultimately centred.

Where words do indeed get around.

So lest it be said that if you cross anyone in said mountainous region of France, you’ll continue to know about if for countless years to come. That said, when it vehemently came to pass that the post office had burnt down, postmistress and prime protagonist of The French Postmistress, Véronique, boldly started to lobby for its replacement.

The social saga of which, really isn’t as simples as it perhaps may sound.

Fogas’s well respected mayor, Serge Papon, still remains overwhelmingly upset by the recent death of his wife. Thus, partially explaining why he remains utterly devoid of any form of joie de vivre whatsoever. Along with his deputy mayor Christian, village politics can go and take a tumultuous hike. Add to this, a controversial government initiative to reintroduce bears to the normally peaceful area, and it’s not long before the residents play the tempestuous game of being overtly French – by threatening the progress of the nigh sacrosanct Tour de France.

Even the the very existence of Fogas itself.

Witty and somewhat escapist this book may well be, but it’s also grounded in a reality that combines suave storytelling with that of pristine, ethereal observation: ”Dipping into the horizon, the sun had cast a crimson flush across the western clouds and turned the Pyrenean peaks purple, the distinctive shape of Mont Valier a dark cameo on a vibrant canvas. As the sun sank lower, the colours had grown deeper, more sensual, no room for pastel shades in a sky painted with abandon. Finally, in a vain effort to stave off the approaching night, the last rays had broken from behind the mountains, sending strobes of orange shooting into the darkening heavens.”

If you’re about to take a long train journey and might be in need of a pleasant, albeit, robust read; then this could well be the book for you. It’s familial. It’s fun. It’s in need of being engaged.

David Marx


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