The world of fiction is indeed a world unto itself. Give yourself about five minutes reading one of these books and it will transport you to Paris! So many stories have been written based in Paris, identified by a landmark in Paris, about the history of Paris and at so many different eras in the history of Paris.
Amazingly, authors continue to conjure new and ingenious ideas – and write them on paper. Their fiction awakens the imagination to see the landscape of Paris as it is now, but also to see it at a time other than the present. Its monuments, landmarks, palaces and houses have witnessed wars, revolutions and even the Tour de France! It is no wonder that Paris is a never ending source of inspiration for writers.
And, inspiration for readers to escape. Want to be someone different for a while? You can! Inhabit the inhospitable world of Cosette, observe the clues and solve the mystery as Inspector Maigret or enjoy being a table companion in the 1920s Paris café society. Anything is possible.
For these recommendations, it is more about the sense of the place rather than actually particularly being set only in Paris. Paris is a place, yes, but it is so much more than just the sum of its beautiful buildings and streets and monuments. It is an atmosphere – ancient, modern, historic, cutting-edge, aristocratic, artsy, grandeur beyond belief, bloody from revolutions, international center of culture, world headquarters for businesses, so many things rolled into one that create an amalgam of sensations that are Paris. Capturing that spirit is difficult, but hopefully it is somewhat evident in these suggestions.
Take a look – surely something will strike your fancy.
by Victor Hugo
A 19th century masterpiece that is one of the longest novels ever written. But, the chapters are only a few pages long so that provides lots of opportunities for place marking. Hugo writes of the struggle of the miserables, or unfortunates, in Paris. He describes the underbelly of Paris at a time of great political tumult. All of the major forces in life are here – love, honor, justice, religion, family, politics. Hugo even writes about the architecture and urban planning/design of Paris. Along with the book, Les Misérables has many film and stage adaptations. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
by Victor Hugo
Set in medieval times, this book was written by Hugo to try to raise awareness of Gothic architecture and the need to save it. He was an early 19th century preservationist! In French, the name of the novel is Notre-Dame de Paris. And, as the name implies, the cathedral is central to the story. Quasimodo, the unforgettable hunchbacked bell ringer of Notre-Dame falls in love with Esmerelda, the gypsy girl. Of course the love is doomed, but the novel provides all of the details of the tragic story. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In one of the most translated books ever written, Saint-Exupéry tells the story of a pilot who crash lands his plane in the desert. While the pilot is alone and trying to repair the plane, a young boy wanders along and tells the pilot stories of his interstellar travels on a tiny asteroid. Through this work of fiction, the pilot learns much about life and human nature from the young boy. Saint-Exupéry also created the colorful and simply elegant water color illustrations that fill the book. Is this one of the best books ever written? (click image to order from Amazon)
The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux
Written in French in 1909 as a serial, this is the classic love/horror story that is the basis for films and Broadway. It is easy to read and set in Paris at the Palais Garnier (the green roofed opera house that is so famous.) Leroux’s narrator tells the story as a journalist and uses newspaper clippings, police reports and witness interviews. Don’t be surprised to learn much more than you may have seen in adaptations of this Gothic story. (click image to order from Amazon)
Murder on the Eiffel Tower
by Claude Izner
It is 1889 and Paris is hosting the World Exposition. Visitors from around the globe are enthralled with the sky-high Eiffel Tower. Suddenly a woman falls to the ground and dies. The media immediately splash the extras with news of the death. Victor Legris, a book seller, becomes a clue-finding investigator trying to unravel this murder mystery. Along with a great story, Izner describes Paris at the time of the exhibition in lush detail. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
Want a thriller that will take you to lots of great places in Paris? Then this is it. The Louvre galleries are the scene of a fantastical murder scene. Saint Sulpice is the site where a monk digs up stones and the site of another murder. The rose line travels through the city near the Palais Royal and the Comédie-Française. Robert Langdon, the leading man, stays at the Ritz Hotel on Place Vendôme. Secret societies, riddles, murders, priests and monks, art, corrupt police, Leonardo da Vinci – can you want more? Why not? There is more! This book has it all and was turned into an edge-of-the-seat movie starring Tom Hanks. You can even participate in Da Vinci Code Tours that take you to all the sites in Paris. (click image to order from Amazon)
Maigret Books and Short Stories
by Georges Simenon
Georges Simenon wrote many novels and short stories about Inspector Maigret, a police detective in Paris. If you love mysteries, detective work and crime fiction, these books are for you and are terrific reads. According to the French, Inspector Maigret is one of the greatest police detectives – ever. He solves crimes like no one else. Some are little pocket books that you can read in no time. Simenon, a Beligian by birth, wrote about Maigret’s adventures over 40 years. Try one of these: Maigret and the Headless Corpse, Maigret on Holiday, Maigret in Montmartre, Maigret’s Failure, Maigret’s Mistake. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Bourne Identity
by Robert Ludlum
Can you believe this is from 1980? I couldn’t put it down when it came out. One of the Jason Bourne novels that Ludlum wrote and this one features scenes in Paris. Spies, lies, amnesia, conspiracy and more make this thriller impossible to stop reading. As usual, the book is different than the movie so don’t skip the book just because you have seen the movie. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Human Comedy: Selected Stories
by Honore de Balzac
The Human Comedy by Balzac is a multi-volume collection that only true lovers of Balzac would want. This is a group of stories that illustrate his genius for writing in a style called literary realism. He describes people, things and even Paris in astounding detail. His works are mostly from the 1830s and 1840s, so from before Haussmann created the grand avenues we all see in Paris. Along with his detail, he is a great storyteller that keeps you turning pages. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Le Figaro gushed that this best seller in France was “the publishing phenomenon of the decade.” In alternating chapters, two narrators tell their stories. Paloma, a 13-year old girl who has determined that life is so meaningless she is planning to commit suicide. And, Renée, the concierge in a bourgeois apartment building who is stereotypically dumpy, surly and obsessed with television. But Renee is also a hidden cultural tour de force. As unlikely as it sounds, their stories become intertwined in this sentimental novel set in Paris. (click image to order from Amazon)
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I know, I know, nothing to do with Paris. But they lived in a world that was detached from the rest of the universe, true fiction. Visiting Paris is like that. It is another world, away from all others. The book is a romantic tragedy and that feeling is Paris – always a hint, way in the back of the mind, of melancholy, of remembering wonderful times/events in the past. Paris is such a beautiful place that it makes one remember beautiful events and F. Scott Fitzgerald perfects that sense in his writing. (click image to order from Amazon)