In the Shade of the Almond Trees

Written by Dominique Marny
Review by Sarah Johnson

Marny’s second novel, first published in France in 1997, is a post-WWI saga about a responsible young woman, Jeanne Barthélemy, who takes it upon herself to revive her family’s Provençal estate, Restanques. Due to her mother’s depression after her father’s wartime death, and her brother Laurent’s wanderlust and fecklessness, it’s left to Jeanne to oversee the almond and olive harvest, keep their servants employed, and find a way to produce more income. For the latter, she launches a nougat-making business using a generations-old recipe. Readers get a nice education in producing this delicious local specialty, and the hilly countryside is beautifully described. As an introduction to the beauty of Provence, the novel satisfies.

Jeanne gets involved with unsuitable men in her search for love. The same holds true for her mother, Marthe, and her maid, Rosalie; this is a land of stormy passions. However, Jeanne’s heart belongs to her brother’s friend, Jérôme, a war hero and botanist. Jeanne doesn’t acknowledge her affections until later, because she’s upset with Jérôme for whisking Laurent away on a round-the-world trip when he should be home, securing his family’s future.

Publishers Square has the laudable goal of introducing popular French commercial fiction writers to American audiences. However, the choice of this novel is curious. It breaks many rules of fiction-writing, not in a good way. Viewpoints can change with each new paragraph, people behave nonsensically, and the story often goes off the rails, providing irrelevant detail on minor characters. The translation (presumably by the publisher; no translator is given) is awkward. Why use “Ms. Jeanne” rather than “Mademoiselle Jeanne” in a work set in France? The language is also full of modern American slang, like “living here in the boonies.” Although the story has great potential, it’s difficult to recommend, which is unfortunate.