Books Set in Paris
Ah, la gaie Paris. Whether you are devoted to her streetside markets, her restaurants, her museums, her revolutions, or perhaps her people, there is no doubt that Paris holds sway over our collective imagination in a way few other cities have in history.
Accordingly, Paris has pulled in some of the greatest literary geniuses in the Western world over the centuries. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, de Beauvoir, Stein, Zola, Proust, Voltaire, Hugo. The city provides a perfect setting by being both beautiful and tumultuous. Paris wouldn’t be Paris without the storming of the Bastille, or the Resistance to the Third Reich.
I’ve found some of my favourite books set in Paris, both fiction and non-fiction. Straighten out your beret and pull out a baguette, because these books will pull you deep into the mystique that is Paris.
The Paris Apartment, by Lucy Foley
Foley is so good at building suspense and providing twisty endings, and The Paris Apartment did not disappoint. Every one of the characters was so messed up, in their own special way, which made the story thrilling and engaging – you really couldn’t tell who to trust and what they were hiding, including the protagonist.
Jess is a hot mess when she shows up at her half-brother’s Paris apartment late at night, but he’s not where he’s supposed to be. And as the days go by and he remains gone, Jess’ suspicions grow that foul play was involved. This is a whatdunnit as well as a whodunnit, and all the neighbours are suspects.
Foley uses several points of view to let us in on secrets while creating even more questions, a technique she has perfected. A solid thriller I enjoyed from start to finish.
The Room on Rue Amélie, by Kristin Hammel
This book destroyed me a little. Set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, it follows the story of newlywed American Ruby, British fighter pilot Thomas, and Charlotte, a young Jewish girl.
Each of them has their reasons to hate the occupiers and each shows extraordinary courage when it comes to taking them down. They each become a part of the French Resistance, in a network of rebels working to serve people who need to escape France. Of course, each of their lives is put in desperate danger, and despite this, they find such resilience, human decency and great love.
The story gripped me throughout and I ended up in tears. It definitely gave me a book hangover.
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, by Graham Robb
For any lover of the City of Lights, this non-fiction account of many of the colourful denizens of Paris is a perfect read. Each of their stories reads like fiction. It provides a rather intimate look at some of the great figures in French history, who are brilliantly depicted to make for a book as engaging as any story. These may all be true accounts, but in some cases, the truth is even stranger than fiction.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
For the most part, this book is not set in Paris but is so beautifully French and Saint-Malo is so exquisitely enthralling that I had to include it.
In this stunning seaside town, the lives of a German orphan and a blind French girl become intertwined. Werner, obsessed with radios from a young age, becomes a communications expert for the Third Reich. And Marie-Laure, having fled Paris with a valuable jewel, takes shelter with her reclusive great uncle in Saint-Malo. As danger encircles them and the world falls apart, both find that humanity does still exist. Despite having read this years ago, All the Light still gives me shivers. Absolutely recommended.
My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, by David Lebovitz
Both a memoir and a cookbook, Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen takes the reader directly to the heart of Paris. For a city where food is everything, that heart is obviously the kitchen.
The photos are lush and gorgeous and will have you drooling. And within the pages are 100 recipes both classic French cuisine and modern twists on the theme. I may have enjoyed the food the most, but the stories interspersed between the pages of his adventures in Paris were lovely as well. If you love cooking and the French (guilty!) then this one is for you.
Seven Ages of Paris, by Alistair Horne
If you love Paris, you must read this historical account of the city in seven parts. It gives such insight into the brilliant jewel that is so well known and loved while showcasing how far the city has come over the centuries. Paris was not always the glamourous City of Lights, but a city of rebels and resisters, who transformed a village along the Seine into the sparkling, storied gem it is today.
Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner
Set in Paris during the World Fair, this slow, atmospheric mystery brings you straight to the heart of la Belle Époque. The Eiffel Tower features heavily here, and the authors are in fact two real-life booksellers in Paris.
The mystery which must be solved is a killer bee that seems to be taking out characters while they visit the Eiffel Tower – but is there something more sinister involved? The protagonist Victor Legris, a bookseller, faces tabloid journalists and Impressionist artists of the age to solve the mystery and win the heart of his latest love obsession.
This reads like an older-style novel, with much wandering of streets and descriptions of furniture. Paris is the real main character here, and if you’re looking for a slower-paced story with a soothing style, this will be right up your alley.
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