If you had a trip to Paris planned in the next few months, you’re probably feeling pretty crushed right now. Our hearts go out to our Parisian friends, who are currently on lockdown. For the rest of us, Paris feels very far away. There’s nothing quite like a stroll along the Seine, a picnic in the shade of the Eiffel Tower, or a museum treasure hunting romp through the Louvre (we think so anyway). But here’s the next best thing: our favourite books about Paris to read while you can’t get there.

Psst! We’ve provided Amazon links to each book, but if you can, consider supporting a local bookshop, many of whom will deliver.

1) A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

There is perhaps no better book about Paris in the 1920s than Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. The memoir is based on a stack of notebooks that has spent more than three decades in a trunk in the basement of the Paris Ritz. Being stuck at home is no reason not to get stuck into this time capsule of Paris life in the roaring 20s – moveable as it is.  

Buy A Moveable Feast on Amazon

Street traffic in Paris, 1920s
Paris in the 1920s. Photo from the Stockholm Transport Museum

2) The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

The Paris Wife is effectively A Moveable Feast from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, the first of Hemingway’s four wives. Primarily set in Paris, it’s a novel, so must be taken with a pinch of salt. But it is nice to read the perspective of one of the women affected by the author’s womanising. And, while it’s not considered a literary masterpiece in the same way as Hemingway’s work, it’s well-written and worth a read.

Buy The Paris Wife on Amazon

Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, 1922
Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, in 1922

3) Paris: The Secret History – Andrew Hussey

This is not a book for those seeking a clean, pretty, Disney-fied version of Paris. It describes a city “made up of radically different spaces and multiple personalities, always at odds with each other and often in noisy collision”, as Andrew Hussey says in the book’s introduction. This introduction, incidentally, is titled “An Autopsy on an Old Whore”, which should tell you everything you need to know about the tone of the book. If you’re looking for a somewhat gritty, at times funny, and always honest history of Paris from its foundation by the Parisii in the 3rd Century BC to the present day, though – look no further.   

Buy Paris: The Secret History on Amazon

A book stall in Paris
A book stall in Paris. Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

4) Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks

A modern novel set in Paris, Sebastian Faulks’ Paris Echo is a book of contrasts. The version of Paris it portrays will be familiar to anyone who has lived there in recent years. Beauty, elegance and sweeping boulevards are juxtaposed with the seedy, grubby underbelly of the city (yes, it has one like anywhere else!). The two main characters – an American academic and a runaway Moroccan teenager, also seem to have little in common. And the stories of women living in Paris under the German occupation provide a comparison to modern life à la parisienne. It’s a great book with a good story. It’s also clearly a love letter to Paris – as accurate in geography as it is in ambiance – and is worth a read just for that.

Buy Paris Echo on Amazon

A rooftop view of Paris
A rooftop view of Paris. Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

5) Bel-Ami – Guy de Maupassant

We couldn’t very well write a list of the best books about Paris without featuring at least one 19th Century classic (and there are several missing from this list). Maupassant’s Bel-Ami follows the corrupt rise to power of Georges Duroy, a character we would probably now call a sociopath. While Duroy’s merciless using of a string of both sexual and professional acquaintances is entertaining – if somewhat disturbing – the novel’s most important achievement is its portrayal of upper-middle class Paris at the turn of the century. Not a light read, but a fun and interesting one once you get into it.

Buy Bel-Ami on Amazon

Two pigeons embrace in front of the Eiffel Tower
Two pigeons embrace in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

6) The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurent

The Red Notebook is a lovely, if somewhat whimsical novella set in a realistic, if somewhat idealised Paris. It tells the story of Laurent, a middle-aged bookseller, who sets out to reunite a notebook he has found with its owner. Literary masterpiece it is not, and the level of serendipity and random chance might be annoying at times. But it’s a nice, soothing read, and as books about Paris go, it’ll do a pretty good job of transporting you there.

Buy The Red Notebook on Amazon

Two women reading on green chairs in Paris
One of Paris’ many reading spots

7) Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay

There’s no shortage of books set in Paris during the German Occupation, and Sarah’s Key is one of the more compelling. It’s dual timeline – following a young Jewish girl arrested in the Vel’ d’Hiv round-up of 1942, and a modern-day American journalist asked to write an article for the 60th anniversary of the event. Even apart from the plot, which is both dark and disturbing, the novel offers a realistic view of two cities: modern-day Paris and the Paris of the 1940s.

Buy Sarah’s Key on Amazon

Soldiers outside the Hotel Crillon, Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1940s
Soldiers at the Place de la Concorde, Paris, in 1940

8) All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

A novel set in Paris, Germany and Saint-Malo, All the Light We Cannot See is another depiction of France during the German Occupation. It follows the stories of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris and later fleeing to Saint-Malo, and Werner, a young German boy skilled in repairing radios. It’s not a light or cheerful read, but it didn’t win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for nothing.

Buy All the Light We Cannot See on Amazon

A Parisian book shop in the 1940s
A Parisian book shop in the 1940s

9) A Year in the Merde – Stephen Clarke

Finally, A Year in the Merde is an “almost true” account of Englishman Stephen Clarke’s years living in Paris. The story of the protagonist, a 27-year-old Englishman tasked with setting up a chain of tearooms in a nation of coffee-drinkers, is fictional. But the wry, sarcastic and at times nonplussed take on French culture, language and people is what it’s worth reading for. As for the title, the merde is both figurative and literal – according to Clarke 600 Parisians are hospitalised each year thanks to the streets slippery canine deposits. There – you don’t feel so bad about cancelling that trip to Paris now, do you?

Buy A Year in the Merde on Amazon

A street in Paris
A street in Paris. Photo by Anh Q Tran on Unsplash

More books about Paris

There are far too many great books about Paris to list in one blog post. Here are a few more of our favourites:

Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin

Down and Out In Paris and London by George Orwell

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Parisians by Graham Robb

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Did we miss anything?

Let us know your favourite books about Paris in the comments! And if you want more great content to get you through these strange times, including ways to experience our museums and cities when you’re stuck at home, sign up for updates from our blog.

Discovering Paris with THATRue: An Intern’s Perspective

I arrived in Paris on a Saturday morning with a layer of sleep that glazed my eyes, but the genuine anticipation of beginning my THATLou internship on Monday– not to mention living in the most amazing city in the world — made that daze of jetlag fade away.  My internship did not start slowly; I would be jumping into my first THATRue hunt on Thursday and my first client would be the Dutch Embassy (a 70-person party). There was no way I could shake off the nervous-excitement that I felt for that day, so I spent the rest of my weekend glossing over the blogs that pertain to the power-hungry queen, Marie de Medici; pre-text to the hunt.

Monday morning I took to the streets of the Latin Quarter by myself, with my hunt in hand and with the job of making corrections if needed. My goal was to get used the treasure hunt layout and then to become familiar with the route. I remember as a little girl visiting the Luxembourg Gardens and picnicking there with my family, but I was in no way familiar with this particular area of Paris, nor the history that belonged to it, so this experience was completely new for me. The immaculate façade of St. Sulpice surprised me most, known for its lopsided architectural design; the second largest church in Paris took me back to my memories of reading the Da Vinci Code. The brass line echoed thoughts of the Holy Grail, but in stark reality the church despises Dan Brown for his fabrication, which I had a good laugh about– I knew the Dutch Embassy would get a kick out of that. I spent most of the hunt inside the church, not only because of the gorgeous organ, or the incredible sundial, but because one of the clues was hidden under layers of construction and I went in circles trying to find it. That sneaky Delacroix!

On the day of the hunt for the Dutch embassy, I arrived to the meeting point an hour early, taking in essential preparation time, plus my nerves were rising to an obscene level. I sat in front of the clock in one of the perfectly placed lawn chairs that surround the Gardens, enjoying an espresso and my view of Le Sénat. Once Annie, in charge of the hunt and the Odeon trail, and Maria, another helper leading the Pantheon trail, arrived I began to set into reality and my nerves calmed down a bit.

At 10 am, a sea of multi-colored ball caps bounced down the right-hand set of stairs leading to Le Sénat. The Dutch Embassy had arrived, all 70 sporting different colored baseball caps that separated them into teams of four, brilliant! Annie provided the teams with the instructions; Maria and I handed out all the materials and then gave each team a time to depart, letting them go in 3 min intervals.  All of the teams were determined and ready start their treasure hunts, a lot provided playful banter with other teams in confidence of their future victories. Once all of the teams departed it was time to keep a stealthy look-out on the trail and tail behind. Oh what fun that was! My pink cap team (the last to depart) in the St. Sulpice hunt, was gearing up to take first place, it was amazing to watch them surpass the rest of the teams, as they were the first to complete the treasure tasks inside St. Sulpice. They remained in the lead, although neck and neck with the orange team for quite a while, but remained triumphant in the end beating the orange team by a mere two minutes. To see all 70 smiling faces after the hunt was really gratifying.  It’s the most fun and perfect way to see the Parisian world and its past and I was so lucky to be a part of it.