What is the best-known book set in France?

See note on methodology

France presented me with some very interesting issues. The top book, by number of owners, tagged “France” on both Librarything and GoodReads does indeed have a substantial chunk in the middle set in France, but starts in England and finishes in Scotland. It is also such a complete load of rubbish that I am very reluctant to recognise it in any way, even though it is one of the best-known books published this century. I disqualify it on the grounds of being insufficiently French in setting, and also only barely a book by any reasonable aesthetic judgement, but for the record it is:

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

The second-ranked book, by number of owners, which is tagged “France” on both Librarything and GoodReads is not at all rubbish; it’s one of the great works of children’s literature. But it slightly fails the test of being set in France, due to being partly in a desert but mainly in outer space. It is, of course:

Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The third-ranked book on LibraryThing (and most frequently tagged “France” on Goodreads, though it lags in number of owners) is by the second youngest ever winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and it is on lots of French literature reading lists due to being fairly linguistically accessible and also mercifully short. But the fact is that the entirety of the novel (as far as I remember from reading it thirty years ago) is set in Algeria, so I don’t think it can qualify for my purposes; even if Algeria was France then, it isn’t now (cf Turkey and several other countries to come). It is, of course:

L’Étranger/The Stranger/The Outsider, by Albert Camus

The fourth-placed book on LibraryThing, and third on Goodreads, which has been tagged “France” by users on either system, is set only partly in France. Sure, the beginning and end of the book (and most of the memorable passages) are set there, but a substantial chunk in the middle is set in England, and the very title betrays that the focus is on the capitals of both countries, not just one. According to Wikipedia, it is the best-selling single-volume book ever. With slightly heavy heart – because I love this book! – I feel I must disqualify it for not quite being French enough, but you may feel differently. It is, of course:

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

The book that I reckon deserves the title of best-known book [entirely] set in France was published three years later than the book I have just mentioned, in 1862, and is about three times as long. Of books tagged “France” on either system, it ranks fourth on GoodReads and fifth on LibraryThing by number of owners. Shortly after publication, the author, concerned about sales, sent a telegram to his publishers which consisted in its entirety of a single character: “?” The publishers replied: “!” It has been filmed a dozen times, including three in the last twenty years, and is the basis of a very successful musical. And I have to confess that I love this book too. It is, of course:

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

The tagging system on both LibraryThing and Goodreads is more than usually deceptive in this case. The book most often tagged “France” on LibraryThing is one which I’m sorry to say I had never heard of, a novel of France under German occupation in the Second World War, not quite half completed before its author was killed in Auschwitz, and published eventually in 2006. It is:

Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky

Bubbling under: The Count of Monte Cristo, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Madame Bovary.