Read Like the French: 11 French Best-Sellers Now in English

Read Like the French: 11 French Best-Sellers Now in English

Want to know what the French have been reading for the past years? Here is a selection of best-seller books that are now available to read in English.

France is a famously literary country, the home of authors like Proust and Camus and Flaubert. So, it’s not a surprise that the French are big readers. But what do they actually read — is it just sophisticated literature, or are there some murder mysteries and bodice rippers in there? And is there a way to read the same books as the French? 

Happily, many of the biggest best-sellers in France are later translated into English. So, if you’d like to read à la française, all you have to do is wait a few years after a book is published.  

To help you keep up with current French reading habits, the books below were all French best-sellers over the past few years and are now available in English. As you might expect, you’ll find some serious reads, including books that have won France’s top literary award, the Prix Goncourt. But you’ll also find thrillers, inspiring tales, and even a touch of science fiction.  

Page Turners 

The Last of the Stanfields, Marc Levy

Marc Levy has written plenty of international best-sellers, like If Only It Were True, a book that was turned into the box office hit Just Like Heaven. In Levy’s latest thriller, a journalist receives an anonymous letter alluding to a crime committed by her deceased mother. She soon meets a stranger who has received the same mysterious letter about his own mother. Together, they embark on a quest through the shadowy past of the Stanfields, a moneyed family full of unimaginable secrets.  

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The Enigma of Room 622, Joël Dicker

Swiss author Joël Dicker has been knocking out one international best-seller after another. His first big success was The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, a murder thriller that was later made into a TV mini-series. This latest book is an Agatha Christie-style page turner set in the Swiss Alps, involving Switzerland’s largest private bank and a shadowy counter-intelligence operation.  

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The Reunion, Guillaume Musso

Guillaume Musso is France’s best-selling author, having topped the charts for more than ten straight years. He writes fast-paced thrillers like this one, about a glamourous prep school girl who goes missing after an affair with her teacher. It has everything you want: gut-wrenching suspense, a twisting story with blindsiding surprises, and a narrator with a mysterious past. Many of Musso’s books have been translated into English, like Central Park and The Stranger in the Seine. 

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The Wide World, Pierre Lemaitre

Lemaitre began his career writing crime thrillers before winning the Prix Goncourt in 2013 for The Great Swindle. His latest book is the saga of a prominent French family in the booming postwar years, set in Paris, Saigon, and Beirut. Described as “an electrifying novel of passion, greed, murder, and revenge,” it is another page-turner from Lemaitre. 

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Serious Reads

Not Everybody Lives the Same Way, Jean-Paul Dubois

An international best-seller and winner of the Prix Goncourt in 2019, this book describes the interior life of a man trapped in a prison cell, his history, and his relations with those dear to himIt ranges from France in the sixties to the North Sea to the asbestos mines of Québec. As the story unfolds, the reader slowly learns how the protagonist ended up in prison.

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The Wizard of the Kremlin, Giuliano da Empoli

An international best-seller, The Wizard of the Kremlin follows the life of the fictional Vadim Baranov, a close advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Baranov is based on the real Vladislav Surkov and the book provides a vivid account of modern Russia and Putin’s rise to power. The Wizard of the Kremlin was the runner-up for the 2022 Prix Goncourt. 

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Serotonin, Michel Houellebecq

If you would like to understand the discontents that led to France’s Yellow Vest movement, this is the place to start. Described as “a caustic, frightening, hilarious, and politically incorrect novel about the decline of Europe and Western civilization,” Serotonin is classic Houellebecq, the novelist who best understands our modern age. He is also a bit of an acquired taste. For anyone looking for an introduction to Houellebecq’s books, The Map and the Territory, winner of the Prix Goncourt in 2010, is considered his best and most accessible work. 

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The Most Secret Memory of Men, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr

This is an epic novel, with several narrators and multiple threads. One thread is the story of a young writer struggling to find his voice, another the story of a group of Africans in France living uncomfortably between two worlds, and still another a mystery about a long-ago writer who produced a masterpiece and then disappeared. It won the Prix Goncourt in 2021 and has just been translated into English. 

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A Touch of Science Fiction

The Anomaly, Hervé Le Tellier

This book is a rarity: not only did it win the Prix Goncourt in 2020, it also sold over a million copies in France, becoming the first book to accomplish this double since Marguerite Duras’ The Lover in 1984. The Anomaly is the story of the passengers of an airplane to whom something impossible happens (think time travel), and how it changes their lives, in a different way for each person. 

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Inspiring Tales

Fresh Water for Flowers, Valérie Perrin

An international best-seller, this is the story of the caretaker of a small cemetery in Burgundy. Her life is quiet and calm until an unexpected visitor arrives and stirs up her complicated past. Beautifully written and thought-provoking, it is a tribute to our power to heal. Perrin has recently written another French best-seller, Three, about three friends and the ties that bind them over decades. 

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Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, Raphaëlle Giordano

Paris native Camille would seem to have everything she needs for a happy life—a good job, a loving husband, and a wonderful child. But her life has become too routine, and she is searching for true happiness. This international best-seller is the feel-good story of how she finds it, a lighter take on Eat, Pray, Love. 

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Keith Van Sickle is a lifelong traveler who splits his time between California and Provence. He is the author of the best-sellers "One Sip at a Time" and "An Insider’s Guide to Provence.” Keith’s observations on life in France can be found on his website

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  • M Morrison
    2023-10-25 05:19:11
    M Morrison
    Great article, and lovely to see so many fascinating books appearing in English. However, they don't appear "as if by magic" - it would be good if you would #namethetranslator as well!