Simple French-language fiction?
January 16, 2013 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I spent 4 years learning French in high school, and have retained just enough since then to vaguely eavesdrop on a fellow commuter's French novel the other day. I would like to brush up on my reading comprehension, and could use some suggestions for some simply written fiction to pick up.

I read Le Petit Prince in school as well as a bunch of historical texts. I'm looking now for something contemporary and entertaining... I've lost most of my grip on complicated/formal tenses... maybe YA fiction would work for my skill level?

Bonus points for books available cheaply on Kindle.
posted by thirdletter to Education (25 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
The Stranger, along with other books by Camus, is surprisingly readable, as long as you have a dictionary on hand (which you'll probably need anyway). Of course, you'll have to adjust for your definition of "entertaining."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:44 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are some great graphic novels in French. Almost all of Marjane Satrapi's work is originally in French, with the bonus that it's all translated into English, so reference translations are widely available.

Joann Sfar's Klezmer series is quite good, but only volume one is available in English for reference.
posted by colin_l at 1:46 PM on January 16, 2013

Georges Simenon's Maigret novels are easy to understand. Likewise the short stories of Guy de Maupassant.
posted by essexjan at 1:46 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

These aren't contemporary but I remember really enjoying "La ronde de nuit" by Patrick Modiano, and "Antonia" by George Sand. Guy de Maupassant's stories are also good pick-ups and available for free on Gutenberg and such.

Seconding Camus and Sartre; they are interesting and pretty comprehensible.

And what about plays, like "Art" by Yasmina Reza?
posted by estherbester at 1:49 PM on January 16, 2013

Alexandre Dumas. Probably find his works free somewhere, guy's been dead long enough.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:54 PM on January 16, 2013

I strongly recommend the Le Petit Nicholas series.
posted by bq at 1:58 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Terre des Hommes is beautifully written in an uncomplicated style. It's more "eternal" than "contemporary" though.

Also, there are tons of great French comics out there -- I'm not sufficiently well versed to make good recommendations, but the Internet will oblige (and there was something relevant on the Blue a week or two ago). The French seem to have realized a long time ago that, while "comics for grown-ups" and "R-rated comics" overlap, they are not the same thing.

(on Edit: seconding Le Petit Nicolas. Written for kids, but I can't imagine ever outgrowing it.)
posted by pont at 2:03 PM on January 16, 2013

Whoops, somehow missed contemporary! I still stand by Dumas as great stuff for the beginning French reader.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:05 PM on January 16, 2013

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Now's a great time to read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo! It's a fat book, so not only can you pick up 19th century criminal argot, but you should be reasonably fluent by the end.

Aussi, Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sebastien Japrisot wrote in very simple sentences, didn't mix cases much, all the stuff that makes for easy second-language reading (which is why Hemingway is so many non-native English speakers' favorite novelist, but I digress). La Dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil and Un Long dimanche des fiancailles are both easy to find in English, and are also good movies to boot.

Beatrix Beck is another writer of that era (both writers died in the last ten years) whose work is built on simple, eloquent sentences. Alas, not so much translated into English.

If you want really contemporary contemporary, Fred Vargas's crime fiction is excellent, and she is a great fan of the declarative sentence.

(Excuse complete lack of diacritics in this post! I'm on the iPad.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Harry Potter!
posted by Night_owl at 2:27 PM on January 16, 2013

I'm trying to reboot my french, and I think may be useful for that.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:39 PM on January 16, 2013

My sister picked up a translation of Harry Potter for just this reason and had great fun with it.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:05 PM on January 16, 2013

It's not YA but it is an extremely engrossing story, relatively short and easy read: Née en France.

The copy I linked to is apparently out of print, but I read it in a college class, so they are defintiely still printing them somewhere.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:17 PM on January 16, 2013

I suggest getting used copies of Douze Contes de Maupassant, which is an old textbook collecting readable stories, and Djinn by Alain Robbe-Grillet, which is a novel composed as a textbook using vocabulary and syntax of gradually increasing complexity.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:26 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, I believe the Holt Rinehart Winston edition of Djinn, released as a textbook in the US, was titled Le Rendez-Vous. IIRC, it has footnotes, etc., for English speakers, but it's been a while since I've seen a copy.

It's 30+(?) years old now, but still kind of a neat thing, if you have an interest in avant-garde literature.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:35 PM on January 16, 2013

Seconding Tintin! The vocab is surprisingly challenging (well, it's just not stuff you necessarily pick up in class), but it's a comic book, so you usually have a little more of a crutch than you would with straight prose.
posted by like_a_friend at 4:27 PM on January 16, 2013

Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin de Tarascon is fairly simple. My introductory French textbook used excerpts from it in the early lessons. The link includes an option to download a PDF or ePub version.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:00 PM on January 16, 2013

There are indeed lots of great French-language comics if you're interested. That's how I kept up my French for a long time. Besides Asterix and Tintin, and Satrapi, mentioned above: Rabagliati ("Paul a un travail d'été"), Sfar ("Le Chat du Rabbin", or "Donjon" (w/ Trondheim)), and Dupuy & Berberian ("Monsieur Jean"), are some favorites of mine. A good library or bookstore with a French-language section may have some of those, or check online Canadian bookstores (,

If you find a public library with a good french-language section (try the kid's and YA sections too), that's a great resource as you can take home a dozen things and return anything that doesn't grab you in the first few pages.
posted by bfields at 6:27 PM on January 16, 2013

Seconding Fred Vargas (I learned a lot of new swear words from L'homme à l'envers), and I loved reading the Maigret books.

And while they're neither contemporary nor Kindle, I like to pick up Librio books. There's a lot of 19th century classics like Dumas, Hugo, Verne, though I did find some Houellebecq once. They're about $4 (which is an amazing price for French books in my experience) and they're on the short side (~100 pages), so I can actually finish them, and I can carry one in a coat pocket pretty easily.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:26 PM on January 16, 2013

Picture books for slightly older readers! Like comics with even less time commitment. Check your library for them. I thus discovered Je mangerais bien un enfant (me: "does that…say what I think it says…?"), AKA the Baby Shower Gift Book That NO ONE Else Will Have Brought, unlike the ten copies of Pat the Bunny.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:25 PM on January 16, 2013

boulet - brilliant web comic.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:37 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

BD! (comics)
Story driven: Lanfeust de Troy is AMAZING; Trolls de Troy is funny as all hell; Largo Winch is about a kick-ass millionaire on a mission; Chroniques de la Lune Noir is a slow moving epic fantasy; Requiem is a bit tougher going, but very very weird and cool vampire story; La Triolgie Nikolpoli by Bilal is a classic and isn't not the easiest use of language but it's gorgeous; and XIII is a better, more thoughtful and more intriguing version of the Bourne Identity.
Easiest reads: Lanfeust de Troy, Largo Winch

Single page stories (easier to read in principle, but rely on a very French sense of humour, I'd recommend reading a play or two online and seeing how you find it): Gaston La Gaffe (stupid office worker/inventor) is the funniest thing I've read; Achille Talon is smarter and got some real creative use of language; Le Petit Spirou (perverted kid being a kid) is childish and all the better for it; Tifeuf (teenager) is one of the most successful series in recent years; Kid Paddle (kids playing video games) has incredible drawings and isn't too tough.
Easiest reads: Kid Paddle, Le Petit Spirou

One easy-ish and very good novel I can think of is Stupeur and Tremblements by Amelie Notomb. There's also a movie out, so maybe watch the movie then read the book?
posted by litleozy at 1:10 AM on January 17, 2013

Response by poster: You guys are amazing! I'm going to add ALL of them to my goodreads and figure out where I want to start. The suggestions for comics are especially brilliant. I can't believe that didn't occur to me!
posted by thirdletter at 8:17 AM on January 17, 2013

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