The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart
Reviewed by Doris
Julia Stuart’s The Matchmaker of Perigord, a first novel by Julia Stuart is a very different read for me. Did I enjoy it? Not at first. Did I learn from it? Yes, but I am not sure I wanted to learn these things. Was it entertaining? Yes, in a very “French farce” way. Would I recommend it to my friends? Mmmmm, now there’s the rub.
The ugly little French village of Amour sur Belle has thirty three citizens, all of whom seem to be very quirky. Actually, quirky doesn’t do them justice. The characters in Sarah Addison Allen’s books are quirky. The residents of Amour sur Belle are more Southern Gothic goes Continental, or they could quite possibility be the cast of a Moliere play. There is Guillaume the barber whose clientele is getting bald so he opens a matchmaking business called Heart’s Desire. There’s Yves the dentist whose hands are referred to as the long, white instruments of torture and who is as stingy as he can be. There’s Stephan the baker who is always covered in flour. There are the two old women who have a decades’ old feud. One threatens the other with an eel. The other throws rotten tomatoes at the eel bearer. There is the breathtakingly beautiful midwife who thinks she is very ugly. There’s the man who smells like goat, a variety of other villagers, and a communal shower in the village square. Besides having to use the shower by council decree because the water reservoir is very low, what do all these eccentrics have in common? They are all looking for love.
As Guillaume goes about the business of matching couples, there are all the makings of a French farce. Mistaken identities, false clues, old hidden secrets, mini-tornadoes that act as the deus ex machina to resolve questions all pile on top of each other to make the book both amusing and exasperating at the same time. Ultimately, couples are sorted out happily, and Guillaume is reunited with his one true love who lives in a falling down chateau with what are thought to be extinct molds growing on the walls.
I think Julia Stuart read A Year in Provence and decided to poke fun at the Francophiles who live and breathe anything French. She has thoroughly covered the French fascination with food by exotic meals consisting of delights like sliced calf’s muzzle, black radish jam, pickled artichokes, a cassoulet that has been cooking on the stove for many decades (this was the part I did not want to know!), and other unlikely and very “peu attrayante” combinations of foods. She has each meal accompanied by the perfect wine, and she has the baker turn out the flakiest of pastries and most scrumptious of cakes. After mincing her way through the food, she takes on the belief that all French are very romantic. And, in many small ways and with one major romantic maneuver from Guillaume to profess his love for Emilie, the eccentrics of Amour sur Belle are shown to be true romantics.
I struggled through the first several chapters of the book. Until the farce elements really kick in and the characters become more familiar—helped by the fact that the same identifying phrases are repeated over and over—I kept asking myself why I was reading this book. Then, as I became attached to the characters and I wanted to see if the romantic entanglements worked out, I began to enjoy the humor and the nonsense. So, while it may not be my usual fare, I am glad I read the book to the lovely, sweet ending. As for recommending it to my friends, C’est la vie!