"Hotel Pastis"

Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle

Simon Shaw is a highly successful (i.e.very wealthy) ad executive in London, whose current marriage has dissolved in a cloud of resentment and recriminations. He is tired of his ex's constant grasping for more money and the shallowness of colleagues at his advertising agency; in fact he's tired of the whole spinning money-making machine (though not so much the money) and is ready for a change when he meets a savvy, French woman with an interesting idea.

Simon begins the process of disentangling himself from life in the city and together with Nicole (the French woman, who is conveniently gorgeous and available as well as savvy) and his faithful sidekick, Ernest, opens a hotel in the south of France. While this is all happening a group of locals are making plans for a heist that will thicken the plot and complicate things for Simon et al. 

The most interesting character is Ernest. He started out as Simon's chauffeur and over the past ten years has become his personal assistant, valet and friend. He takes care of Simon's expensive cars, he cooks and he does pretty much whatever else needs attending to, all with common sense and a healthy dose of wry wit. There's a vulnerability written into his character that makes him both likeable and memorable.

The others, Simon and Nicole especially, are not-very-interesting stereotypes who never stand up from the page as real people. I had little to no understanding of Nicole's personality even as I turned the last page of the book, and though I had all kinds of information about Simon's life, he too remained remote as a person. 

The various settings are great, all fancy homes, offices and restaurants in London and New York, both wonderful places to be if you can afford their bright, beautiful sides. Then of course once the story moves to France every scene is inevitably perfect. The sheer "Provence-ness" of it should be enticement enough to read the book.

The plot is (predictably) a little predictable but it makes for a pleasant light reading experience, a fun bit of escapism and sometimes that's exactly what we're looking for. I didn't love it, but it did entertain me and that was all I wanted right now.


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