French Spirits


“Jeffrey Greene writes of France, and indeed the spirits of France with intimacy, elegance, and wit, and with apparently effortless evocation of a born writer.”  --W.S. Merwin

When Jeffrey Greene, a prize-winning American poet, and Mary, a molecular biologist and his wife-to-be, discover a moss-covered stone presbytery in a lovely village in the Puisaye region of Burgundy, they know they have to live there. In lush, lyrical prose, Greene recalls their experiences turning the 300-year-old stone building — a "château in miniature" that the locals believe houses numerous spirits-into a habitable refuge. He brings to life their adventures in finding wonderful bargains with which to furnish their new space, including a firm mattress and some rather suspicious antiques" bought from the back of a van. Greene offers the unexpected joys and surprises of village life, from celebrating his and Mary's simple backyard wedding to toiling in a verdant garden. He shares the experience of surviving his mother's decision to move in and humorously introduces the locals — both human and nonhuman — who define his and Mary's new world. Woven throughout this luscious tale are the pleasures of rural France: wondrous food and wine, long-held rituals and feasts, dark superstitions, and deeply rooted history.

The Barnes & Noble Review

American poet Jeffrey Greene's search for a "cheap" old house to restore in the French countryside may not be unique -- a jaded real estate agent sums it up with a deadpan, "Quelle surprise" -- but his take on Burgundian home improvement is a singular delight. French Spirits is the story of how Greene and his fiancée discover and lovingly restore an unused presbytery in the village of Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses.

Mixed among tales of frustrating architects and DIY disasters (the foremost of those is centered around the tendency of ancient plaster to disintegrate when called upon to support lots of modern -- and expensive -- insulating sheetrock) are the stories that turn a house into a home and a love affair into a marriage. Together, the couple good-naturedly grapple with the ever-expanding transoceanic logistics of planning their "simple" French country wedding; helping Greene's retired mother settle in with them; and various property flaps involving garden disputes and their own victimization by apparent real estate fraud -- all of which begin to make the presbytery's actual restoration look like a toddlers' LEGO play date. Through it all, Greene's enthusiastic embrace of the life he and his wife have built in Burgundy is irrepressible: Their joyful cup of French Spirits truly runneth over, and so, too, does the reader's. (Julie Carr)

From Library Journal

Books by English-speaking writers about renovating a French ruin and converting it into a vacation home such as Yvone Lenard's The Magic of Provence and Nicholas Kilmer's A Place in Normandy belong in a genre of their own. In this Peter Mayle readalike, Greene, an award-winning poet (To the Left of the Worshiper), chronicles the restoration of a historic stone presbytery in the village of Rogny, Burgundy. Not surprisingly, the book is extremely well written, even lyrical in parts. We learn about the history of the presbytery from its original construction in 1754 and Greene's dealings with roofers and masons, neighbors, and assorted residents of Rogny, such as Coco, who expresses assent with a "ho-kay." Amid the minutiae of restorations, major events occur, too. There is the author's own wedding to Mary, a molecular biologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and an American expatriate; musical soirees; and the arrival of the author's mother from New Haven for a permanent stay. Recommended for all armchair travelers, especially Francophiles. Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

An American renovates a house in France! But what's new here is that the house is in the Burgundy town of Rogny. The region of La Puisaye, with its swamps and murky woods, lacks the immediate attraction of Provence or Normandy. The American builder is celebrated poet Greene and his companion, Mary, a renowned scientist currently at the University of Paris. After finding nothing fit for their taste or budget in better-known Burgundian towns, the author's real estate agent leads them to remote Rogny. Reconstruction efforts center on the town's presbytery, abandoned by the church and its previous owner and ripe for restoration. Friends of the last priest to occupy the grounds and town tradesmen make up the cast of characters, whom Greene makes into neither caricatures nor odd rustics. As always, reconstruction absorbs more time and money than the author had anticipated. The property takes on sentimental significance when Greene and his companion decide to get married there and their families descend on the little town. So attractive the place becomes that Greene's mother emigrates from America. Mark Knoblauch

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