The Matchmaker of Périgord caught my eye as an early reviewer selection on LibraryThing. When I was selected for a different book, I immediately pre-ordered it and stalked the post office, waiting for the box to appear. Such great expectations often lead to disappointment; fortunately, Julia Stuart has crafted an utterly charming, farcical comedy of rural France that could not fail to delight.
Guillaume Ladoucette (whose mother's feud with Madame Moreau involves assault-by-eel and overripe tomatoes) is the barber for the village of Amour-sur-Belle, a tiny hamlet of 33 aging residents, each with his or her own quirks and past secrets (many of which were revealed during the mini-tornado of 1999, when they all thought they'd die). When his client list dries up (due to a combination of balding customers and his refusal to attempt cutting-edge hairstyles like The Pinecone), he decides to set out his shingle as a matchmaker. He's an unlikely choice, having been secretly in love with Émilie Fraisse for twenty-six years, but he approaches his new calling with enthusiasm, if not immediate success. He continues to push pairs of villagers together, insisting that love is like a cassoulet--you must take the good with the bad. As Guillaume undertakes the massive task of bringing love to the villagers, drought has brought a communal shower to Amour-sur-Belle, and villagers must walk to the square in their dressing gowns to queue up for their daily shower.
Though the book is clearly contemporary, with references to a mini-tornado in 1999 and prices in euros, Stuart has given the village and its residents timeless appeal. Every person is referred to in every instance by both first and last names, and many physical descriptions and important events are described using the exact same phrasing, and these echo comfortably throughout the book, like an epic told from memory by a master storyteller. The repetition is both lyrical and practical--it helps the reader keep the numerous characters, their pasts, and their relationships with each other straight. Stuart also retells the same stories from different points of view at different times in the action, creating a rich, layered confection worthy of Stéphane Jollis, the baker. The stories themselves are inventive, just barely believable, but with a sense of farce, in the manner of Émilie Fraisse giving tours of the castle and creating wild stories about the furnishings.
This book has been compared to Chocolat. I must confess that, though I love the film, I've avoided the book, but to the film at least the sense of timelessness, the charm of rural France, and the entwined lives of the villagers have similarities. If a charming tale of deceptively simple village life sounds like your cup of tea (or truffled foie gras, as it were), I highly recommend this for a fun read.