Lavender fields, sunshine, good wine, olive oil, roman ruins- my visions of Provence are romantic and idealized, and I have largely Peter Mayle and his novels/memoirs to thank. I first read Mayle’s A Year in Provence in my late teens, after I’d devoured Frances Mayes similar sun-drenched tales of Tuscany and imagined myself as Liv Tyler in Stealing Beauty. I was expecting Hotel Pastis to be a similar story- Mayle buys and renovates an old Provencial hotel!- and was looking forward to some relaxing armchair travel. Turns out that Hotel Pastis is not memoir disguised as novel but actually a novel.
Hotel Pastis focuses on Simon, a rich English advertising executive who is bored with his life and not having much fun in his few downtime hours. Simon takes a weekend vacation to Provence and through luck/misfortune ends up in a charming small town that lacks a hotel but has at least one beautiful and available romantic interest. We then endure nearly 200 pages of Simon setting up the machinery to exit his London life and the ad business to open said hotel, before really settling into Provence. There is a B plot involving a large bank heist by a group of petty criminals, and I’m sad we didn’t get to see more of it- give me more of the everyday grunts risking everything rather than a rich guy whose problems are easily solved by the money he can through at them.
Additionally, I would note that this novel was written in 1994 and it shows its age in its gender attitudes and descriptions. The most glaring ‘ick’ moment was when Simon’s old male business colleagues made openly laviscious comments about underage girls- while I don’t doubt that still happens, Mayle inserted it as blithe and comical background, which wouldn’t fly if he was writing this today. I also didn’t love the portrayal of the two main women, the new love interest and the ex-wife- neither had a lot of depth and the latter in particular was the stereotypical gold digging secretary turned trophy wife turned grubbing ex-wife. At no point is Simon at all culpable for having decided to marry this horrible woman – somehow, despite how smart and successful he is in his business, he’s the one who was taken advantage of in their loveless marriage. Eyeroll and a yawn for lack of creativity.
I’d give this one a pass- if you’re looking for escapism the other Mayle/Mayes novels are better and the plot for this novel isn’t worth it on its own.