Peter Mayle 1939(?)–
English nonfiction writer, memoirist, and novelist.
The following entry provides an overview of Mayle's career through 1995.
Mayle is best known for his humorous nonfiction, particularly the books detailing his experiences in France, A Year in Provence (1989) and Toujours Provence (1991). Mayle has also written a number of lighthearted advice books for children and adults, a novel, and a nonfiction account of the advertising world.
Born in Surrey, England, Mayle was educated in the West Indies, where his father served in the British foreign affairs office. As a trainee at the Shell Oil company, Mayle became interested in advertising. He worked under the tutelage of advertising tycoon David Ogilvy and eventually moved to New York City. During his fifteen-year career in advertising, Mayle advanced from copywriter to executive. In 1973 he published his first book, Where Did I Come From?—a jovial explanation of the facts of life—in response to one of his sons' queries; the book's publication contributed to Mayle's decision two years later to leave advertising to pursue a full-time writing career. A number of similar nonfiction books followed, but Mayle did not achieve substantial success until he moved into an old farmhouse in Provence, a region in the south of France. Intending to write a novel there, Mayle found himself stymied by the workers who were renovating the house. His British agent suggested postponing the novel in favor of an account of his experiences. The result was A Year in Provence, which sold unexpectedly well and won a British Book Award for best travel book in 1989. Mayle's further adventures in France, including coping with the fans who started coming to his house, provided material for subsequent works, including Toujours Provence, the novel Hotel Pastis (1993), and the fictional memoir A Dog's Life (1995). In 1995, Mayle decided to sell his Provençal farmhouse and move to the United States to seek a more private life.
Mayle's nonfiction for young people—including Where Did I Come From?—is known for its humorous and forthright approach to such sometimes-controversial subjects as sex, death, divorce, and birth control. Mayle also employed a lighthearted tone in his handbooks for adults, beginning with How to Be a Pregnant Father (1977), and moved into more risqué territory with a series of books about "Wicked Willie," a cartoon character in the form of an erect penis. His essays written in the 1980s for GQ magazine, later collected in Expensive Habits (1991), concern the habits of the wealthy and such extravagances as limousines and custom-made shirts and shoes. A number of Mayle's works draw heavily on his own experiences. A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence, for instance, describe the renovation of his Provençal home, French food, and rural life in southern France. Autobiographical details are likewise employed in Hotel Pastis, a novel about a former advertising executive who attempts to convert an abandoned gendarmerie in Provence into a fashionable hotel, A Dog's Life, a fictional memoir concerning Mayle's dog, Boy; and Up the Agency (1993), an account of modern advertising.
Mayle received considerable critical attention for A Year in Provence, earning praise for his keen observations, accurate portrayal of rural life, and entertaining prose style. Some commentators have complained, however, that his depictions of Provence's rural populace are exaggerated and simplistic—even patronizing—and that his tone is smug. As he published more books featuring Provence, reviewers were divided over whether these represented a welcome return to familiar territory or tiresome rehashes. This diversity of opinion extends to Mayle's other works. His children's books, despite some success, have similarly been faulted by critics who argue that Mayle fails to deal with moral issues, creates misconceptions, and employs an overly breezy tone. Reviewers have tended to agree, however, that Mayle has mastered a light, accessible style and writes engagingly about his subjects.
Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations (nonfiction) 1973
"Will I Go to Heaven?" (nonfiction) 1976
How to Be a Pregnant Father: An Illustrated Survival Guide for the First-Time Father (nonfiction) 1977
Divorce Can Happen to the Nicest People (nonfiction) 1979; revised edition published as Why Are We Getting a Divorce?, 1988
We're Not Pregnant: An Illustrated Guide to Birth Control (nonfiction) 1981; also published as Congratulations! You're Not Pregnant: An Illustrated Guide to Birth Control, 1981
Grown-ups and Other Problems: Help for Small People in a Big World (nonfiction) 1982
Man's Best Friend: Introducing Wicked Willie in the Title Role (prose) 1984
Sweet Dreams and Monsters: A Beginner's Guide to Dreams and Nightmares and Things That Go Bump under the Bed (nonfiction) 1986
A Year in Provence (memoirs) 1989
Expensive Habits (essays) 1991; also published as Acquired Tastes: A Beginner's Guide to Serious Pleasures, 1992
Toujours Provence (memoirs) 1991
Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence (novel) 1993
Up the Agency: The Funny Business of Advertising (nonfiction) 1993
A Dog's Life (fictional memoir) 1995
(The entire section is 165 words.)
SOURCE: "Nothing but the Facts—of Life," in The New York Times Book Review, September 23, 1973, p. 8.
[In the following excerpt, Breasted offers a largely negative assessment of Where Did I Come From?]
[Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations] is, as a matter of fact, sprinkled with giggly phrases and sentences and illustrated by such risible pictures that, all told, one has to say it did not leave out the nonsense. It does explain both anatomy and sexual intercourse more expansively [than other such books for children]. But it is filled with little parenthetical asides that seem to destroy the whole point of the book, the explanation of sex and reproduction without awkwardness or embarrassment. When explaining anatomy, the book tells us our parents "are not made at all the same way. You've probably noticed that already, but you notice it much more when you put them in the bath together," instead of just saying: You can see the difference when they are naked.
In explaining the function of women's breasts, the book says: "Well, the milk that kept you alive for those first few months either came from a bottle or your mother's breasts. So it's a quick thank you to breasts before we move on."
And feminists may not like this book …, because when it finally reaches the explanation of intercourse, it tells us, "The man...
(The entire section is 362 words.)
SOURCE: A review of "Will I Go to Heaven?" in The New York Times Book Review, October 10, 1976, p. 31.
[Walsh was an American writer, educator, and Episcopal priest. In the following review, he acknowledges the difficulty in writing about heaven and hell but concludes that however brave the attempt, Mayle's effort in "Will I Go to Heaven?" falls short.]
Peter Mayle is well known as the author of two successful books—Where Did I Come From? and What's Happening to Me? He now moves to explore the reputed life beyond death [in "Will I Go to Heaven?"], and with mixed results.
He begins well enough, with a sensible chapter on why people die. Next he discusses various concepts of the afterlife—reincarnation, the Happy Hunting Grounds, the Valhalla of the Viking warriors. Abruptly the focus shifts to Hell, and unfortunately this is by far the most memorable section of the book. The drawings of devils, pitchforks and darting flames are ghastly enough to keep any small child awake. One shows a tormented soul, sweating profusely, pursued by Old Nick; the other depicts the traditional Devil himself gazing gleefully at a thermometer marked Warm—Hot—Very Hot—Boiling—Ouch!
It is true, Mr. Mayle points out, that this was the way men in olden days conceived Hell, and "the old idea of the Devil isn't as common as it once was." He suggests...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
SOURCE: "Sex in Comic Cuts," in The Times Educational Supplement, No. 3404, September 18, 1981, p. 27.
[In the review below, Heeks notes Mayle's nonmoral stance and light approach to sexuality in We're Not Pregnant.]
Penis size may not matter, as Peter Mayle assures us [in We're Not Pregnant], but book size does, as reading surveys show, and one foot square isn't the most convenient size for a handbook on birth control. It was presumably chosen to match Peter Mayle's other light-hearted treatments of sexual matters, Where did I come from? and What's happening to me? both directed to younger age groups. Now, "moving up the age ladder", as the publishers say, we reach the next aid to sexual progress, an illustrated guide to birth control. Assuming that the outsize page broken by jokey cartoons is right for one of these titles, it is unlikely to be suitable for all three, intended for such different stages of development. A book depends on appearance to get off the shelf, and this one suffers a handicap from the start.
What the reader finds inside is more than the title implies, for the author gives a run-through of conception as well as contraception—all done in a strange mixture of the enthusiastic and the casual. The enthusiasm is for sexual activity itself: "Anything goes … You may not get it right first go, but you'll have a wonderful time practising". The...
(The entire section is 567 words.)
SOURCE: "Handing out Good Advice," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4146, September 17, 1982, p. 1005.
[In the following excerpt, Warnock, an English educator and author of works on philosophy, ethics, imagination, and education, faults Grown-ups and Other Problems for presenting an essentially adult perspective while ostensibly being for children.]
[H]ow does one publish a book of advice? How can advice be made to do for everyone? In questions of personal relationships, unlike, say gardening or cooking, the advice may seem never to be quite or even nearly applicable to the individual. On such questions, advice must come to people one by one, after the whole complicated saga has been told. Who does not think herself unique, not a type or specimen, like everyone else? It is this conviction that explains the popularity of agony columns. We read them out of curiosity, to find out what other people are like. If the problem and its solution seem to have some reference to ourselves, then this is, itself, a private matter, to be decided by ourselves. We are not being type-cast.
It could be argued, then, that [advice] books … are a waste of time and money; indeed they may be thought positively harmful. For even if you feel you are not the person to whom the advice is offered, you may like to pretend that you are. You may adapt your behaviour to fit the stereotype in the books....
(The entire section is 614 words.)
SOURCE: "Lure of the Lubéron," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4505, August 4-10, 1989, p. 844.
[In the following review, Winterbotham commends A Year in Provence for its informative and humorous portrait of rural France.]
Peter Mayle recently emigrated to the South of France, where he has bought and modernized a house close to the village of Ménerbes in the Lubéron. A Year in Provence is his account of a settler's experiences, beginning with his arrival in January and ending with a party for the builders to celebrate the house's completion the following Christmas. For the main narrative his book depends on such events as the installation of central heating, visits from unwanted guests and a sampling of the region's restaurants. But Mayle's curiosity and his talent for observation give flesh to this rather insubstantial backbone. Despite linguistic difficulties, he succeeds in making contact with the greatest facility and appears to understand and be naturally sympathetic to the points of view of all manner of local people. The result is an accurate and informative picture of the pattern of rural life seen through urban eyes.
In addition to the seasonal agricultural events, Mayle examines mushrooms, plumbing, bread, Provençal body language (which may involve having both hands off the steering-wheel when driving), la chasse (which incorporates the French...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
SOURCE: "'A Dieter's Vision of Hell,'" in The New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1990, p. 8.
[Fussell is an American educator whose writing interests include travel and cooking. In the review below, she finds A Year in Provence an entertaining look at the food and people of Provence.]
I like a book that begins, "The year began with lunch," particularly when the book [A Year in Provence], year and lunch are set in Provence. And I like a lunch that begins with pastis and ends with marc, that heartwarming, heartburning firewater the French learned long ago was man's best chance of surviving the catastrophes endemic to Provence. Or so the Mayles—Peter, his wife and their dogs—discovered when they fled gray London for Provençal sunshine and bought an ancient farmhouse, a mas, between the villages of Ménerbes and Bonnieux in the Lubéron Mountains, overlooking the valley of the Vaucluse. Only when pastoral dreams were shattered by the year's round of icy mistrals; unwelcome visitors, ruinous floods and procrastinating workmen did they discover the full meaning of the Provençal lunch.
Their story of innocents abroad is a familiar one, but the tale bears repeating when the teller is as engaging, funny and richly appreciative of "serious stomachs" as Mr. Mayle is. Like a good host, he entertains us with course after course of comic characters, the village types who...
(The entire section is 1220 words.)
SOURCE: "Ah, Provence!," in The Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 1990, p. 13.
[In the following excerpt, Pratt describes A Year in Provence as interesting and informative, but not necessarily realistic.]
Idyllic places—and most visitors think that Provence, in the south of France, qualifies—are difficult to write about. All too often the prose turns to gushing about the wonder and charm of it all. The best travel writing takes a picture of a place with a longer lens. Get up too close to a paradise and you can't see it clearly….
Mayle, who is British, bought an old house in the Luberon Valley,… and he and his wife spent a year restoring it.
The book [A Year in Provence] is divided into month-long chapters. Mayle writes about the horrors of French bureaucracy, tells tales of amusing country contractors and dapper pool designers, musical plumbers, and clever plasterers. You see how he and his wife develop a French-like obsession with food. There's a fascinating discourse on the truffle industry. You learn that hunters used to be allowed to hang caged birds in the trees to lure other birds close enough for a point-blank shot.
Provence proves not to be sunny and hot all year, at least as most people like to imagine it. The mistral, the strong, cold north wind that blows through the region, defies imagination. Its relentlessness may...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
SOURCE: "All That Sunshine," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4595, April 26, 1991, p. 21.
[Thorpe is an educator, Whitbread Prize-winning poet, playwright, and short story writer who was born in Paris. Below, he offers a negative review of Toujours Provence.]
These anecdotes [in Toujours Provence] from Peter Mayle's bucolic exile purport to continue where A Year in Provence left off. A former advertising copywriter, Mayle has a sure eye for the marketable product. Title is all-important: Caesar's Vast Ghost might do for Lawrence Durrell, but not for the sales pitch. Brits salivate at the thought of doing up a property. Add hedonism, sunlight, all those elements denied on a rain-swept northern island, and you have a runaway bestseller on your hands. A Year in Provence implies the sabbatical, not exile. Toujours Provence says here is more of the same, and it will always be there anyway. The first book won a prestigious award, the second is Waterstone's Book of the Month for May. 200,000 people can't be wrong. We are stuck with battling past those teetering piles in every bookshop entrance for some time to come.
Unless, that is, those who bought A Year in Provence did so for the title alone; they might not make the same mistake again. How many felt disappointed by the limp humour, the self-congratulatory tone, the almost complete absence of...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
SOURCE: "Time for the Return of the Native," in The Spectator, Vol. 266, No. 8495, May 4, 1991, pp. 32-3.
[Below, Waugh faults Toujours Provence as patronizing and labored.]
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, where do I begin? For I too have lived in France and come away from it with a view as different from Peter Mayle's as chalk is from cheese. Or, as he might say, as over-ripe camembert is from processed Edam, for his humour is nothing if not laboured. Listen to this [from Toujours Provence]:
… a large Alsatian appeared from the shadows and inspected my leg thoughtfully. I hoped he'd been fed.
And again, about a stray dog which Mrs Mayle insists on adopting:
The dog sprawled on his back with his legs in the air. By no stretch of the imagination could he be described as heroic, but he was conspicuously masculine, and there and then we decided on his name.
They called him Boy. Of course it must be remembered that Peter Mayle is also the creator of the Wicked Willie series, for those of you who are aware of such piffle.
But it is not really the feeble humour and the dreary, uninspired black-and-white illustrations which damn Toujours Provence so much as the patronising, banal picture which the author presents of his French...
(The entire section is 895 words.)
SOURCE: "A Little Truck Stop in the South of France," in The New York Times Book Review, June 9, 1991, p. 9.
[Prial is a journalist and wine columnist for The New York Times. In the review that follows, he praises Toujours Provence as an episodic collection of finely crafted essays.]
The Economist, which is never shy about these things, has nominated Peter Mayle for the Légion d'Honneur, for his efforts to repopulate rural France. Mr. Mayle is the author of last year's widely acclaimed memoir, A Year in Provence, and its sequel, just out, Toujours Provence.
Mr. Mayle may be made a legionnaire or he may not; it's not going to affect his budding but so far eminently successful literary career.
Peter Mayle is a London advertising man who packed it in one day and bolted to the south of France—not to the chic Côte d'Azur, mind you, but to the rural back country north of Aix and east of Avignon, the heart of Provence. What François Mitterrand likes to call La France Profonde.
Nothing much that's new happens in Toujours Provence, but that's O.K. because nothing much that's new happens in Provence. For readers of A Year in Provence, picking up the sequel is like returning to a country inn where you know the owner, where they save your favorite room for you and the bartender remembers what you drink....
(The entire section is 711 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Expensive Habits, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4627, December 6, 1991, p. 28.
[An English novelist and journalist who worked for English and Scottish newspapers for nearly thirty years, Turner is noted for his humorous studies of British social history. Below, he provides a negative review of Expensive Habits.]
The second Duke of Westminster ("Bendor") once summoned his yacht from Scandinavian waters to the Mediterranean to ferry his guests from Cannes to a tennis tournament at Monte Carlo, then instructed the skipper to sail for Sutherland and await orders. The tale comes to mind on reading Peter Mayle's account [in Expensive Habits] of his restaurant "crawl" by a rich guest's helicopter in the Midi; enjoyable, but "a hell of a way to go to lunch". Described as "essential reading for the vicarious millionaire", this book is a salivate-with-me guide to the world of caviar, foie gras, truffles, hand-made shoes, stretch limousines fitted out as gin palaces and mistresses in floor-length sables (yes, sables). "I like to have my morning newspaper ironed before I read it", writes Mayle; and to get the best service in hotels he tips in advance, thus presumably reducing the standard of service to others. His favourite hotel is the Connaught, where, regrettably, it seems the beds have a "Good night" mat on one side and a "Good morning" mat on the other....
(The entire section is 385 words.)
SOURCE: "He Knows a Little Place," in London Review of Books, Vol. 14, No. 3, February 13, 1992, p. 20.
[In the following unfavorable review, Johnson judges Expensive Habits vulgar and notes similarities between it and Mayle's books about Provence.]
The contents of this vulgar and irritating book [Expensive Habits]—can the author have deliberately set out to be irritating?—are totally predictable. It is, however, unexpected that we have to wait until page 166 before encountering a familiar example of what some consider to be admirable behaviour. A man leaves a restaurant, naturally a grand and expensive establishment, after paying his bill. The mâitre d'hotel follows him and asks if he has not forgotten something. The diner, heroic in his conviction that the mâitre d'hotel has not done his duty by him, produces a ten-pound note. 'This was for you,' he says. But, instead of handing it over, he produces his cigarette lighter and burns the note in the face of the mâitre d'hotel, bids him good evening and goes on his way.
Such stories always flourish at times of economic difficulty. During the great depression of the Thirties, young men at Oxford were reported to light their cigars with five-pound notes. During the last war, American officers in London nightclubs were also said to favour this method, and more recently, in various underdeveloped countries, we are told...
(The entire section is 2406 words.)
SOURCE: "How Pleasant It Is to Have Money," in The New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1992, p. 37.
[In the following review, Grimes acknowledges Mayle's wit and ability to entertain but asserts that some of his pieces in Acquired Tastes, originally published in England as Expensive Habits, seem strained.]
Back in the high-flying 1980's, GQ magazine handed Peter Mayle a dream assignment: "Go forth and mingle with the wealthy. Do as they do, providing you obtain clearance from the Accounts Department first, and report back." Mr. Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence, needed no further prodding, as [Acquired Tastes: A Beginner's Guide to Serious Pleasures] makes clear. His credit card smoking with constant use, he filed monthly columns on the pleasures of buying a pair of $1,300 "hand-cut, hand-stitched, hand-built shoes" in London; a $350 custom-made shirt at Charvet in Paris; and hand-tailored suits at Douglas Hayward of Mayfair. On the gustatory side, he explained to his readers the fine points of caviar, cigars, truffles, foie gras, Champagne and malt whisky, and reminisced about his favorite Paris bistro. Mr. Mayle is a writer who never fails to entertain. If he were told to go forth and write about doorknobs, he would return with a witty, perceptive essay in hand. Nevertheless, a few of the chapters in Acquired Tastes show...
(The entire section is 358 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Hotel Pastis, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4707, June 18, 1993, p. 24.
[Below is a negative review of Hotel Pastis.]
Peter Mayle is the man who turned his back on Madison Avenue in the mid-1970s and settled in the Lubéron. He locked horns with recalcitrant native stonemasons, electricians and plasterers, and wrote two books based on his experiences, A year in Provence and Toujours Provence, popular derivatives of the Lady Fortescue school of dispatches from the Provençal front. So, few marks for originality there.
And not many for Hotel Pastis either. The principal story, such as it is, concerns Simon Shaw, forty-two, who gives up the chairmanship of his London advertising agency in order to open up a hotel in an abandoned village gendarmerie in the Lubéron. Simon Shaw's masons, electricians and plasterers work on a larger canvas than Peter Mayle's but, à part cela (italicized French phrases and expletives litter the text in an irritating and often fatuous attempt to inject authenticity), we cover much the same ground. There is not a single convincing character in the book, merely a puppet-show of stereotypes drawn primarily from the world of advertising, such as Ernest, Simon's factotum. "'How rare it is to find a good fairy in this cruel world.' 'You should known, Ern.' 'I do, dear. I do.'"
(The entire section is 328 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Up the Agency: The Funny Business of Advertising, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXI, No. 15, August 1, 1993, p. 984.
[In the following excerpt, the critic describes Up the Agency as an amusing look at the advertising business.]
Generalities about advertising by the tireless Mayle [appear in Up the Agency: The Funny Business of Advertising]….
Rather than offer a riotous nailing-down of idiocies in advertising, Mayle depends more upon dry wit rather than detail here and sends up the mast only nameless ad companies and misadventures with flopped accounts so that all may salute their stupidity. We get a series of amusing think-pieces about companies and accounts, accompanied by a laying-out of the guts of building and running an agency. Mayle's largest thoughts hover on a scenario in which today's some 640 ad companies will be gobbled up into 20 or so giants that will devise a new transligual adlingo for selling Global Biscuits to any country on Earth and for making biscuit-eaters brand-loyal. A single worldwide campaign will build on one consistent message to establish the "international biscuit"—"with all the glamour and excitement associated with international products." Historically, Mayle says, advertising "has attracted individualists, entrepreneurs, and talented misfits." They join up because the ad biz promises big money fast, under the...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
SOURCE: "Peter Mayle," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 240, No. 41, October 11, 1993, pp. 65-6.
[In the essay below, based on an interview with Mayle, Field discusses the author's life and writings.]
Peter Mayle looks like Robert Redford—the same boyish face with a geography of lines; the same wire spectacles framing flinty eyes; the wispy blond hair and patient smile. He attributes the abuse he sometimes receives in the British press to envy—"most journalists have some ambition to be writers, and if they see some idiot like me who stumbles over to France and writes a bestseller, they say 'I could have done that book.'" But some of the envy must also arise because, at 53, Mayle still looks more like a golf pro or an actor than a deskbound hack.
He is talking to PW in England, where he has spent most of his life. He went to Provence and discovered his literary career less than seven years ago; before that he had a 15-year career in advertising, split between London and New York, and a childhood split between England and Jamaica. He wears a colorful cotton sports jacket and an open-necked shirt, but otherwise his style is not that of a British expatriate. In fact, he still has the air of a man who is taking a holiday from his real job—not someone who made the big break described in his nonfiction books, A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence, and in...
(The entire section is 2230 words.)
SOURCE: "The Souse of France," in The New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1993, p. 11.
[Kraft is an American editor and novelist. Below, he provides a favorable review of Hotel Pastis.]
Here [in Hotel Pastis] we have the story of a man who abandons dreary London for sunny Provence. Peter Mayle has told a similar story before, of course, but this time out he's written a novel, not a memoir like Toujours Provence or A Year in Provence, so the protagonist of Hotel Pastis is not Peter Mayle but Simon Shaw, a prosperous advertising executive. In the aftermath of his second divorce, Simon is a man suffering from "too many lunches, too many meetings," from "jet lag and bad temper"; he is, in short, a man who needs a vacation. Ernest, Simon's valet, personal assistant, confidant and cook, suggests a few days in the south of France, and Simon departs in "the most relaxed of his three cars," a black Porsche. Avoiding the coast and its hordes of Parisians, he heads instead for the Lubéron, the backcountry of Provence.
A minor accident strands him in the village of Brassièreles-Deux-Églises, where a boules tournament is headline news. The proprietor of the sole garage informs him that his car will be repaired by the end of the week, "normalement." Readers of A Year in Provence will know that in the technical lingo of French artisans, this means,...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
SOURCE: A review of A Dog's Life, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 242, No. 7, February 13, 1995, pp. 63-4.
[Below is a positive review of A Dog's Life.]
Both canine "memoir" and cautionary tale, this sprightly account [A Dog's Life] of the further adventures of Boy, Mayle's real-life dog introduced in Toujours Provence, is a gem of its kind. As animated by Mayle, Boy is a clever chap given to literary allusions, urbane observations and stinging bon mots. With many an arch and insightful comment, Boy celebrates his life after he escapes from his first owner, a brutish farmer, and is adopted by a kindly woman (thereafter called madame) and her "other half," a rather dim-witted soul who is of course Mayle himself. Boy's encounters with wrathful butchers and irate owners of dogs in heat and of treed cats are the high points of this picaresque tale, balanced by his admonitions on how to acquire social polish and communicate effectively with insensitive humans. From his spot under the dining-room table, Boy receives "a wide ranging, eclectic education," learning chiefly that "the management," as he calls his owners, are incorrigible and bibulous party givers. Boy himself proves incorrigible too: in hilarious scenes, he explains how he overestimates human intelligence time and again. While most of the episodes have the ring of truth, those toward the end of this slim volumee veer toward farce...
(The entire section is 270 words.)
SOURCE: "Good Dog! Bad Dog!," in The New York Times Book Review, April 9, 1995, p. 11.
[In the following excerpt, McCall offers a mixed assessment of A Dog's Life.]
The One Hundred Cruelest Pet Stories probably won't be showing up at fine booksellers anytime soon. Writers who choose to treat with the world of cats and dogs must tread lightly; pet love tolerates if not lives off the occasional tear in the eye and lump in the throat, and the tender sensibilities at the heart of the man-animal bond must be respected. Indeed, they're usually pandered to. Even adult-level pet writing commonly wallows in a kind of Disney-ish pastel zone more bluntly described as icky. How to write pet stories, then, while skirting the swamps of smarm?
Peter Mayle's solution [in A Dog's Life] is ingenious. The author of A Year in Provence turns the tables and writes from his dog's point of view, creating what appears to be an instantly sympathetic narrator and protagonist while shutting out and shutting up the human voice, with its tendency to blubber at the sight of moist brown eyes. The dog is Boy, picked up by Mr. and Mrs. Mayle as an abandoned stray and given a comfy home in their loving household in the south of France. Boy's appetite for food, sex and mild mischief leads to one or another homey mini-crisis.
Mr. Mayle spices what might otherwise be a 1950's doggy...
(The entire section is 355 words.)
Brodt, Bonita. Review of Sweet Dreams and Monsters, by Peter Mayle. Chicago Tribune—Books (1 March 1987): 5.
Brief, positive appraisal of Sweet Dreams and Monsters.
Duffy, Martha, "How to Eat, How to Live." Time 138, No. 3, (22 July 1991): 62-3.
Discusses the content and critical reception of A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence.
McMurran, Kristin. "Shaggy Dog Story." People Weekly 43, No. 13 (3 April 1995): 28.
Brief article concerning A Dog's Life.
Pearl, Patricia. Review of Why Are We Getting a Divorce?, by Peter Mayle. School Library Journal 35, No. 1 (September 1988): 178.
Suggests that Why Are We Getting a Divorce? may disturb children rather than reassure them.
Rothstein, Mervyn. "A Burnisher of Golden Provence." The New York Times (27 June 1991): 18.
Discusses Mayle's life and publishing career through Toujours Provence.
Slung, Michele. "French Provincial." The Washington Post (11 July 1990): C2.
Praises A Year...
(The entire section is 216 words.)