‘The Belly of Paris,’ by Emile Zola

Novel, 1873 A heavy critique the Second Empire which was established in mid-nineteenth century France, through the fictionalised struggle and treatment of an aspiring ‘thin man’ revolutionary. Florent is pitched against the vast and stultifying displays of greed and wealth of Les Halles and the food around it, with particularly effective scenes and displays established in and around Florent’s brother’s charcuterie. The gluttony of those … Continue reading ‘The Belly of Paris,’ by Emile Zola

‘Trafic,’ directed by Jacques Tati

Movie, 1971 Comedy about a small, struggling French car manufacturer preparing a camper car for an Amsterdam motor show. The story is little more than that, and the attempts of Altra – the car company – to get their vehicle from Paris to the show. There are a few set pieces, including an intriguing pile-up, after which the occupants of each car seem to indulge … Continue reading ‘Trafic,’ directed by Jacques Tati

“Belle de Jour,” directed by Luis Buñuel

Movie, 1967 Story of a well-to-do housewife who becomes a day time call girl in an unlikely double life. This is a film which is at once fresh, though also very much of its time. The surreal elements, which revolve around the savage treatment of Belle de Jour, are mixed into a plot and pace which seem almost quaint to contemporary mores, although there’s a … Continue reading “Belle de Jour,” directed by Luis Buñuel

“The Yellow Dog”, by Georges Simenon

Novel, 1931 Maigret mystery set in the wonderfully, bleakly evoked Northern French port of Concarneau, and following the running down and persecution of a group of friends who hold high and respectable offices in the town’s civic life. A book which offers both a dreamy account of a humdrum life and existence, and in doing so, sets up a story which runs its course, but … Continue reading “The Yellow Dog”, by Georges Simenon

"Taste of Fear", directed by Seth Holt

US title – Scream of Fear Movie, 1961 Crackling, atmospheric suspense horror thriller, in which a load of tropes are aired – the spooky house, the creepy matriarch, the imperiled heroine – and a storming film delivered. This is unsophisticated, well-plotted fare, without a trace of gore, but some suitably jolting moments. At times, the lighting, the angles, the photography and claustrophobia build a really … Continue reading "Taste of Fear", directed by Seth Holt

"Moderato Cantabile," by Marguerite Duras

Novella, 1958 Meditative, claustrophobic study of a woman affected by seeing a murder, then returning to the cafe where it was committed. The detached narrative runs over some real pressures from family and acquaintances, dealings with whom seem likely to have driven the protagonist to drink. The dislocation and strange behaviours appear to oppress the book’s heroine, who may or may not stand in a … Continue reading "Moderato Cantabile," by Marguerite Duras

"The Beast Within," by Emile Zola

Novel, 1890 Melodrama set on and around the French railway line from Le Havre to Paris. A book both old fashioned, in its narrative approach, but also modern, in terms of the themes of technology and intense, dysfunctional psychology and some warped crimes and derring-do. And a cracking read – the details firmly set up the social and physical surroundings, but the action is relentless. … Continue reading "The Beast Within," by Emile Zola

"Le Peau Douce," directed by François Truffaut

Movie, 1964 A slight, well-trodden story of infidelity and the consequences arising for the three protagonists involved. A fairly conventional film, all told, although there’s a subversion at the end which makes quite a mark and a clear statement. Otherwise, everything in the film looks cool, with a decent smattering of Citroens, Gauloises and jet planes and some pretty archaic looking, talented people gaining social … Continue reading "Le Peau Douce," directed by François Truffaut

"The Mystery of the Yellow Room", by Gaston Leroux

Novel, 1907 Early example of a locked room mystery and for all the labyrinthine plot twists, fairly easy to read and follow. The use of red herrings and characters not essential to the plot help measure rather than drag the narrative and the setting up of situations and cliff hangers makes for an absorbing read. Some may find the precociousness of the main character a … Continue reading "The Mystery of the Yellow Room", by Gaston Leroux

"Epitath for a Spy", by Eric Ambler

Novel, 1938 Effective, nicely paced and well-told story of a man’s dilemma and problems after he’s arrested under suspicion of spying against the French just before the Second World War. The careless and bungling nature of the protagonist and the fact he’s played by many of the other characters in the book give a refreshing feel to the book, although there’s also some ill ease … Continue reading "Epitath for a Spy", by Eric Ambler