Paperback: The Matchmaker of Perigord, by Julia Stuart

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The Independent Culture

Amour-sur-Belle, the setting for Julia Stuart's comic debut novel, is an unlovely hamlet in north-west Dordogne – a place so ugly that even the English don't live there. Home to an ageing population, a sign on the outskirts of the village reminds visitors: "Slow down! There are only 33 of us". Among the remaining souls is the hero, the village barber Guillaume Ladoucette. Dispirited by his progressively balding clientèle, he decides to reinvent himself as a matchmaker – romance is in short supply in the inappropriately named Amour-sur-Belle. Any satire of village life depends for its gags on an ensemble of engaging eccentrics, and it's hard not to fall for Stuart's cast of hopeful yokels: from Denise Vigier, whose grandmother was accused of "horizontal collaboration" during the war, to Patrice Baudin, "the skinny vegetarian pharmacist". The ensuing blind dates and thwarted liaisons teeter satisfyingly between farce and tragedy. Pragmatists down to their supermarket leather sandals, the plucky villagers concur with Ladoucette's mantra that "love is like a good cassoulet... some bits are delicious, while others might be a bit rancid and make you wince." You may think life too short for another whimsical tale of gallic rustics, but Stuart injects her own brand of va-va-voom into this classic formula.