A Piano in the Pyrenees by Tony Hawks

Hawks stumbles into something like a mid-life crossroads after announcing his retirement from a decidedly average 5-a-side soccer career with his mates. At this life-changing event he deciding that the two things he wants most in life is to meet his soulmate and to find lovely house abroad somewhere. For most of us, this simply would have been an ill-advised thought over a pint and a bag of crisps. For a man who has made his name out of taking on wagers such as lugging a fridge around Ireland for 100 pounds or attempting to beat all eleven members of the Moldovan soccer team at tennis with the loser having to strip naked on Balham High Road and sing the Moldovan national anthem, it is inevitable that this course of action will be put into practice.

On his next skiiing trip in the Pryenees, one of his friends becomes injured and with little chance of spending time on the slopes he quickly finds himself in a real estate agent's office rashly signing up to buy a French country house. From here, Hawks regales us with amusing escapades of his immersion into the local community as he mangles the French language, hits upon local village woman, entertains a raft of his English friends and displays his musical talent at the village fêtes. 

A Piano in the Pyrenees conjures up immediate comparisons to Peter Mayle's uber-popular book A Year in Provence which details Mayle's first year as a British ex-pat in Menerbes, France.  I'll have to profess to having not actually read Mayle's book (although I have seen the Russell Crowe movie A Good Year, which is based on his novel of the same name), but I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that the way they write about their approaches to leading an ex-pat life in France is likely to be poles apart. Whereas Mayle's book appears to cover off the in-depth renovations on his newly purchased house (amongst a lot of other things), Hawks' renovations mostly consist of getting his builder mate to assist with putting in a swimming pool - an exercise that seems well outside both men's capabilities.

A Piano in the Pyrenees paints a beautiful picture of the simplified village lifestyle and the mostly ups and downs of trying to make a go of it as an ex-pat. Hawks' has an easy-going storytelling fashion and his story is extremely likeable, albeit one which is somewhat lacking in substance and one which is doused in a fair amount of laddish humour. Don't expect any real soul-searching moments, although anyone having read any of Hawks books previously, wouldn't have expected that. Rather, what you can expect is a genuinely nice read, accompanied with visions of Hawks tickling the ivories in an idyllic location.

4 stars out of 5

Credit: Banner photo by Mark Goebel