MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrançaise #bookclub: September-October read
This September, the month of the unmissable French ‘Rentrée’* the MyFrenchLife™ French Book Club is reading ‘The Exchange of Princesses’ by Chantal Thomas.
- The Exchange Of Princesses by Chantal Thomas, translated by John Cullen, Otherpress (2015)
- L’Echange des Princesses de Chantal Thomas, Seuil (2013)
Chantal Thomas, a philosopher, an essayist, and a writer of fiction too (not the fashion designer who bears the same name), was invited along with other writers for her new book ‘Café Vivre’, in which she praises the simple and enjoyable activity of sitting and peeping at the terrace of cafés around the world. I was charmed by her presence, and impressed by the serenity and intelligence that radiated from this 70-year-old lady. I had already read several essays by her. I had totally missed that she had also written books of fiction, particularly historical fiction, and that the film ‘ A Royal Exchange’, released three years ago, had been adapted from one of such novels.
So, that was it, the choice was made for the book that had inspired this film. Even though ‘The Exchange of Princesses’ was translated in 2015, we can still add it to our current 2020 list of recently-translated fiction. It’s high time, after almost three years in the existence of our #bookclub, that we read our first historical novel.
Chantal Thomas might not be known by a large international audience but she deserves our attention as she is a prolific and versatile awarded French author. She’s written philosophical essays, and different kinds of fiction. For instance, ‘East Village Blues’, published in 2019, is a recollection of the time she had spent in Manhattan in the mid-70s just after her PhD, in which she wanders, several decades later, in the streets of the neighborhood where she once had lead an artsy and bohemian life only to realize how drastically it had changed.
Why Chantal Thomas & The Exchange of Princesses?
I did not only choose ‘The Exchange of Princesses’ for the personality and previous works of its author. There are at least two other reasons…
- that I am an avid reader of historical fiction and that nowadays , I find more captivating stories for this genre in the English speaking world (Hilary Mantel, Rose Tremain, Ken Follet to name a few) than in the French one. Therefore I do expect that this choice will prove me wrong!
- The Regency, this French period of time tucked in between Louis XIV and Louis XV’s reigns (1715-1723) , heralds the troubles and the transformations which are going to come with the French Revolution and the philosophy of Enlightenment. The book in itself reads like chronicles of a particular political decision to reunite both Kingdoms of Spain and France that had been at war, by marrying two young Princesses as young as 4- years and 12-years-old.
And secondly and lastly, I always find it interesting to draw comparisons between a novel and its adaptation to the screen when it’s possible. ‘The Royal Exchange’ received good reviews when it was released and it is available to rent on most streaming platforms in France and abroad.
Topics worthy of exploration
Further discussions for after or while reading will certainly deal with:
- the condition of children at that time (be them rich or poor),
- art in the 18th Century,
- court intrigues and courtesans,
- curious similarities with our modern world,
- as well as the author’s style and voice.
However, should you decide to watch the film too, I suggest that you read the book first if you wish to rely on your own sense of imagination!
Are you reading with us? How much do you know about 18th Century France and the Regency period? Have you been to Versailles yet? Please share your comments below.
1. You have the choice to read this book either in French or English and to share your thoughts below this article in the comments, in our private Facebook Group #bookchat or our Goodreads Group.
3. *the month of the unmissable French ‘Rentrée’* (yes, it refers to ‘Back to School’, but it has a wider application in France than ‘rentrée des classes’: ‘rentrée littéraire’, ‘rentrée des programmes télé, des films’’rentrée politique’…)
4. This book was also reviewed in 2015 in MyFrenchLife by contributor Ronnie Hess
5. Youtube extract of 23 June La Grande Librairie with Chantal Thomas