J'adore: The Best French Authors to Listen to Now

Fall in love with the country’s most iconic literature, from enduring classics to the modern era.

Ah, France—the food, the wine, the style. And of course, the capital: Paris, hailed as the City of Lights and the City of Love. From the famed Eiffel Tower to the enchanting countryside, France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Whether you're busy planning your dream vacation or you're ready for a virtual trip right now, French literature is one of the best ways to become immersed in France’s fascinating history, people, and culture.

Without French literature, there would be no Little Prince or Hunchback of Notre Dame, no Man in the Iron Mask or Tartuffe. Children across the USA continue to refer to an inseparable trio as “The Three Musketeers,” and Les Misérables remains one of the most popular musical adaptations of all time.

Even if you can’t fly to Paris tout de suite, you can escape into French literature, from celebrated classics to esteemed contemporary novels. Covering three centuries of the best French authors and their greatest works, consider this list your personal travel guide. You'll find action and adventure, romance, history, poetry, and more. You don't even need a passport!

 

Classic French Literature

Cousin Bette

The Bette referred to in this magnificent novel's title is Lisbeth Fischer, an excruciatingly cunning poor relation who both depends upon and nurses a terrible grudge.

Cousin Bette

The Bette referred to in this magnificent novel's title is Lisbeth Fischer, an excruciatingly cunning poor relation who both depends upon and nurses a terrible grudge.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). A writer, critic, and journalist known for his keen, unfiltered observations of society. His obstinate nature often caused him more drama than you would find in his work.

Best work: Cousin Bette, the story of an unmarried middle-aged woman who plots revenge against her family.

 

The Flowers of Evil

In this sensual, macabre, joyous, and liberating collection of poems, Charles Baudelaire explores subjects ranging from contemplation and faith to travel, from sex and drugs to sleep.

The Flowers of Evil

In this sensual, macabre, joyous, and liberating collection of poems, Charles Baudelaire explores subjects ranging from contemplation and faith to travel, from sex and drugs to sleep.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Essayist, art critic, and one of the pioneer French translators of Edgar Allan Poe. His work was incredibly influential to Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, among others.

Best work: The Flowers of Evil, a book of poems about beauty in a rapidly changing world.

 

The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir’s essential masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of "woman," and a revolutionary exploration of inequality and otherness.

The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir’s essential masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of "woman," and a revolutionary exploration of inequality and otherness.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986). Writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. 

Best work: The Second Sex, a classic work of feminism that analyzed women's oppression.

 

The Stranger

Is Meursault on trial for committing murder—or for the crime of having an amoral character? With millions of copies sold, Albert Camus's The Stranger endures as perhaps the greatest existential tale ever conceived.

The Stranger

Is Meursault on trial for committing murder—or for the crime of having an amoral character? With millions of copies sold, Albert Camus's The Stranger endures as perhaps the greatest existential tale ever conceived.

Albert Camus (1913-1960). Philosopher, author, and journalist. Camus won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work at the age of 44, making him the second-youngest recipient in history.

Best work: The Stranger, an existentialist novel about a man named Meursault, who kills a stranger on the beach.

 

La Vagabonde

Largely autobiographical, La Vagabonde recalls Colette's own years as a dance hall performer in turn of the century Paris.

La Vagabonde

Largely autobiographical, La Vagabonde recalls Colette's own years as a dance hall performer in turn of the century Paris.

Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) (1873-1954). Author, actress, and journalist. Colette was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1948; in 1951, Katherine Anne Porter called her “the greatest living French writer of fiction.”

Best work: La Vagabonde, an autobiographical novel about Colette's time as a dance hall performer in Paris.

 

The Count of Monte Cristo

On the eve of his marriage to the beautiful Mercedes, having that very day been made captain of his ship, the young sailor Edmond Dantès is arrested on a charge of treason.

The Count of Monte Cristo

On the eve of his marriage to the beautiful Mercedes, having that very day been made captain of his ship, the young sailor Edmond Dantès is arrested on a charge of treason.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870). Arguably the best French writer of all time. Dumas was of mixed race—his grandmother had once been a slave in Haiti, and his father was one of Napoleon’s generals. Since the early 20th century, his novels have been adapted into nearly 200 movies.

Best work: The Count of Monte Cristo, the story of a man who is wrongfully imprisoned and later escapes and sets out to seek revenge on the three men responsible.

 

Madame Bovary

In Madame Bovary, one of the great novels of 19th-century France, Gustave Flaubert draws a deeply felt and sympathetic portrait of a woman who feels trapped in her marriage to a country doctor and genteel life.

Madame Bovary

In Madame Bovary, one of the great novels of 19th-century France, Gustave Flaubert draws a deeply felt and sympathetic portrait of a woman who feels trapped in her marriage to a country doctor and genteel life.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880). A prominent novelist of the romanticism and realist literary movements. Flaubert is believed to have spearheaded literary realism in his country.

Best work: Madame Bovary, about a doctor's wife who takes a lover, with tragic consequences. Released in 1856, the novel was widely deemed immoral and scandalous at the time.

 

Les Misérables: Translated by Julie Rose

One of the great classics of world literature and the inspiration for the most beloved stage musical of all time, Les Misérables is the timeless story of a hunted man and legendary author Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Les Misérables: Translated by Julie Rose

One of the great classics of world literature and the inspiration for the most beloved stage musical of all time, Les Misérables is the timeless story of a hunted man and legendary author Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885). A novelist, artist, and dramatist of the romantic movement, and another contender for the he best French writer of all time. Hugo's portrait has appeared on French currency. 

Best work: Les Misérables, a sweeping tome about criminal injustices, social inequities, obsession, and misery.

 

Little Birds: Erotica

Anaïs Nin's second published collection of erotica, Little Birds was released in 1979, two years after her death and nearly 40 years after she wrote the stories.

Little Birds: Erotica

Anaïs Nin's second published collection of erotica, Little Birds was released in 1979, two years after her death and nearly 40 years after she wrote the stories.

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977). A diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of erotica. Nin began writing her diaries as a young girl and continued for 60 years; many of them have since been published.

Best work: Little Birds, 13 short works of erotica, written by Nin in the early 1940s when she was part of a group "writing pornography for a dollar a day."

 

A Season in Hell & The Drunken Boat

Originally distributed as a self-published booklet, this personal ode to damnation established Arthur Rimbaud as a visionary mentor to the Beat poets for both his recklessness and fiery poetry. 

A Season in Hell & The Drunken Boat

Originally distributed as a self-published booklet, this personal ode to damnation established Arthur Rimbaud as a visionary mentor to the Beat poets for both his recklessness and fiery poetry. 

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891). A young poet—he composed nearly all of his works before the age of 20—credited with influencing much of literature and art in France around his time. Declared “the first punk” by Allen Ginsberg, Rimbaud is known for his contributions to Symbolism.

Best work: "A Season in Hell", his most famous and most personal epic poem.

 

Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello, Sadness) tells the story of a jealous, sophisticated 17-year-old girl whose meddling in her father's impending remarriage has tragic consequences. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello, Sadness) tells the story of a jealous, sophisticated 17-year-old girl whose meddling in her father's impending remarriage has tragic consequences. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

Françoise Sagan (1935-2004). A prolific playwright, novelist, and screenwriter. Sagan's famous first novel was written while she was a still a teenager.

Best work: Bonjour Tristesse, about a teen girl summering with her father, his soon-to-be wife, and an unexpected guest: his mistress.

 

The Devil's Pool

Considered a classic of French rural literature, The Devil's Pool challenges the simplistic and stereotypical perceptions of countryside folks, giving a more interesting portrayal of people living in rural environments.

The Devil's Pool

Considered a classic of French rural literature, The Devil's Pool challenges the simplistic and stereotypical perceptions of countryside folks, giving a more interesting portrayal of people living in rural environments.

George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) (1804-1876). A novelist, memoirist, and Socialist. One of the most popular authors in Europe by the age of 27, Sand defied societal conventions and wore men’s clothing in public—which required a permit at the time.

Best work: The Devil's Pool, a novella about a peasant seeking to remarry and find a suitable mother for his child after the death of his wife.

 

Les mots

In Lest Mots (The Words), Jean-Paul Sartre reflects on the influence of his lifelong reverence and passion for books. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

Les mots

In Lest Mots (The Words), Jean-Paul Sartre reflects on the influence of his lifelong reverence and passion for books. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). A dramatist, screenwriter, novelist, and critic, and arguably the most famous existentialist philosopher of all time. 

Best work: Being and Nothingness, the most important work of modern existentialism. (For a concise, enlightening account of the philosopher's life and ideas, listen to Sartre in 90 Minutes.)

 

The Red and the Black

Madame de Renal, a wealthy heiress who married the mayor of Verrieres, suddenly finds herself in love...

The Red and the Black

Madame de Renal, a wealthy heiress who married the mayor of Verrieres, suddenly finds herself in love...

Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle) (1783-1842). A 19th-century French novelist who is widely acclaimed as the founder of literary realism.

Best work: The Red and the Black, about a young man hoping to rise above his modest station in life through hard work.

 

Candide (AmazonClassics Edition)

Candide and his tutor, the eternal optimist Pangloss, set out to travel the world guided by the philosophy All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, despite getting let down, ridiculed, robbed, and tortured at every turn.

Candide (AmazonClassics Edition)

Candide and his tutor, the eternal optimist Pangloss, set out to travel the world guided by the philosophy All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, despite getting let down, ridiculed, robbed, and tortured at every turn.

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) (1694-1778). A writer, historian, and philosopher famed for his wit and his sharp criticism of Christianity. Voltaire fought for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state, becoming a pivotal figure in the Enlightenment movement.

Best work: Candide, a novel about a young man who is exiled from his home and suffers tragedy and catastrophe after falling in love with the wrong woman.

 

Modern French Literature

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery offers an enchanting novel about life, art, privilege, culture, class, and power, seen through the eyes of a middle-aged concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery offers an enchanting novel about life, art, privilege, culture, class, and power, seen through the eyes of a middle-aged concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

Muriel Barbery (1969-). A novelist and philosophy teacher. Her second novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, sold over one million copies.

Best work: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, about a young girl who befriends her luxury apartment building's concierge.

 

La ronde et autres faits divers

J. M. G. Le Clézio explores themes of alienation, immigration, poverty, violence, the loss of beauty, and the betrayal of innocence in this collection of 11 poignant and haunting stories. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

La ronde et autres faits divers

J. M. G. Le Clézio explores themes of alienation, immigration, poverty, violence, the loss of beauty, and the betrayal of innocence in this collection of 11 poignant and haunting stories. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

J. M. G. Le Clézio (1940-). A professor and prolific writer, with more than 40 published works. Le Clézio was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008.

Best work: The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts, a collection of stories about the underprivileged living in a very privileged region of the French Riviera.

 

Vernon Subutex 1

This debut volume in Virginie Despentes's acclaimed trilogy introduces Vernon Subtex, once the proprietor of Revolver, an infamous Paris music shop, who is now homeless, on the run, and mysteriously connected to a dead rock star.

Vernon Subutex 1

This debut volume in Virginie Despentes's acclaimed trilogy introduces Vernon Subtex, once the proprietor of Revolver, an infamous Paris music shop, who is now homeless, on the run, and mysteriously connected to a dead rock star.

Virginie Despentes (1969-). A writer, novelist, and filmmaker known for her work exploring gender, sexuality, and obscenity’s limits, often with unflinching critiques of social and moral conventions.

Best work: Vernon Subutex, about the owner of a record shop who loses his business and sinks into a life of excess.

 

Serotonin

For the depressed Florent-Claude Labrouste, the only relief from life's disappointments and betrayals comes in the form of a pill. From one of France's greatest living writers,Serotonin is at once a devastating story of solitude, longing, and individual suffering and a powerful criticism of modern society .

Serotonin

For the depressed Florent-Claude Labrouste, the only relief from life's disappointments and betrayals comes in the form of a pill. From one of France's greatest living writers,Serotonin is at once a devastating story of solitude, longing, and individual suffering and a powerful criticism of modern society .

Michel Houellebecq (1956-). A novelist, poet, essayist, actor, filmmaker, and singer. Houellebecq is widely credited with the renewal of French literature and widely criticized for his controversial works.

Best work: Serotonin, about an engineer for the Ministry of Agriculture who, after learning of his girlfriend’s infidelity, sinks into depression and abandons his life for the countryside of his youth and a miracle pill.

 

Just Like Heaven

In this quirky and heartwarming love story, young Arthur falls for a woman he finds hiding in his apartment, who may be delusional...or maybe genuinely magical.

Just Like Heaven

In this quirky and heartwarming love story, young Arthur falls for a woman he finds hiding in his apartment, who may be delusional...or maybe genuinely magical.

Marc Levy (1961-). A prolific novelist whose first work, If Only It Were True, was turned into a feature film by Steven Spielberg.

Best work: Just Like Heaven, about a man who falls for a stranger who swears she is a manifestation of her comatose self across town.

 

The End of Eddy

A haunting autobiographical novel about growing up gay in a battered and close-minded French factory town, The End of Eddy is also a sensitive, universal portrait of boyhood and sexual awakening.

The End of Eddy

A haunting autobiographical novel about growing up gay in a battered and close-minded French factory town, The End of Eddy is also a sensitive, universal portrait of boyhood and sexual awakening.

Édouard Louis (1992-). A novelist who made his publishing debut when he was only 22. He was awarded the Pierre Guénin Prize for his work against homophobia.

Best work: The End of Eddy, about a young gay man coming of age in a French factory town.

 

Lumières de Pointe-Noire

Alain Mabanckou shares his story of returning, after 23 years of absence, to his childhood home in the Congo to search for the mother he believed was still alive. (Note: This title is only available in French.)

Lumières de Pointe-Noire

Alain Mabanckou shares his story of returning, after 23 years of absence, to his childhood home in the Congo to search for the mother he believed was still alive. (Note: This title is only available in French.)

Alain Mabanckou (1966-). A novelist, journalist, poet, and academic. Currently a Professor of Literature at UCLA, he is best known for portraying the experience of contemporary Africa and the African diaspora in France.

Best work: The Lights of Pointe-Noire, a memoir about his return to his childhood home in the Republic of the Congo after more than two decades away.

 

Trois femmes puissantes

Marie NDiaye tells the singular stories of three strong women, each of whom fights to preserve her dignity against the humiliations that life stubbornly inflicts on her. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

Trois femmes puissantes

Marie NDiaye tells the singular stories of three strong women, each of whom fights to preserve her dignity against the humiliations that life stubbornly inflicts on her. (Note: This title is available only in French.)

Marie NDiaye (1967-). A novelist and playwright who published her first novel when she was just 17 years old. She won France’s highest literary honor, the Prix Goncourt, in 2009.

Best work: Three Strong Women, about three women who stand up for themselves and say "no" to different things in their lives.

 

God of Carnage

After one 11-year-old is hit by another, their parents meet to find a mature resolution. As the evening wears on, the veneer of civility degenerates. Winner of the 2009 Tony Award, God of Carnage is a brash and hilarious exploration of human nature.

God of Carnage

After one 11-year-old is hit by another, their parents meet to find a mature resolution. As the evening wears on, the veneer of civility degenerates. Winner of the 2009 Tony Award, God of Carnage is a brash and hilarious exploration of human nature.

Yasmina Reza (1959-). A playwright, actor, novelist, and screenwriter whose numerous accolades include a Tony, a Laurence Olivier Award, a César Award, and several Molière Awards.

Best work: God of Carnage, a play about the parents of two children who get together to resolve their sons' conflict and end up fighting instead.

 

The Perfect Nanny

Building tension with every sentence, The Perfect Nanny is a riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, motherhood, and madness.

The Perfect Nanny

Building tension with every sentence, The Perfect Nanny is a riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, motherhood, and madness.

Leïla Slimani (1981-). A writer and journalist, as well as a personal representative of French president Emmanuel Macron. She has been awarded the Prix Goncourt, and has sold millions of copies of her works.

Best work: The Perfect Nanny, about a nanny who seems perfect but is hiding a dark side.

 

Nothing Holds Back the Night

In this autobiographical novel, Delphine de Vigan offers a child's eye view of being raised by a dazzling, Bohemian single mother whose occasional bouts of sadness escalate into despair and delusion.

Nothing Holds Back the Night

In this autobiographical novel, Delphine de Vigan offers a child's eye view of being raised by a dazzling, Bohemian single mother whose occasional bouts of sadness escalate into despair and delusion.

Delphine de Vigan (1966-). A novelist who published her first book under the pseudonym Lou Delvig. She has won several prestigious awards, and her work has been adapted into films. 

Best work: Nothing Holds Back the Night, an autobiographical novel focusing on her luminous and erratic mother, who struggled with mental illness.

 

Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, cohost of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader and listener. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon.

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