This is my review of La Bicyclette Bleue (Le Livre de Poche) by Regine Deforges.
The first in what I believe to have become a saga of ten novels, it is easy to see the initial resemblance to "Gone with the Wind". In Lea, daughter of a wealthy vineyard owner, we have a spoilt, sexually alluring young woman who is set on the one man she cannot have, Laurent, the pale and frankly not very interesting neighbour who insists on honouring his longterm commitment to marry his frail, and to Lea pathetic, cousin Camille.
Any similarities to Margaret Mitchell's famous work do not matter, since we have the different location of France on the brink of World War 2 with all its potential for drama – initial complacency followed by the horrors of bombing, the shame of occupation, temptation to collaborate and the dangers of taking part in the resistance. Yes, this story is riddled with implausible coincidences, and could be a candidate for a bad sex award, but it's excellent for testing and extending one's knowledge of French – full of idioms and useful vocabulary, with a good pace and clear development of a variety of complex, flawed characters to provide continuous interest. There are some genuinely moving and shocking moments, as well as humour. I have also learned more about, for instance, the differences between the occupied and "free" zones established by the Germans working with Pétain, and realised how families were often split over the issue of giving support to either Pétain or De Gaulle.
It may not be great literature, I might feel a bit sheepish about spending time on it if I were French, but recommend it as an enjoyable way of improving one's French from a base of A Level.