June 30, 1997 12:00 PM

by Peter Mayle

Damn Peter Mayle. Damn the former children’s books writer for waiting until he was nearly 50 to publish, 4 Year in Provence (1989), making us wait all those years for the easygoing wit and dead-on satire he shows yet again in his fourth novel for grown-ups. The MacGuffin of this one—an art-world rip-off—gives Mayle room for an engaging gallery of rich people and even richer food, and he sends his self-consciously chic jet-setters (including a ringer for The New Yorker’s energetic editrix Tina Brown) flitting between New York City and the South of France as casually as the rest of us run down to the 7-Eleven for a Dr Pepper. Mayle is becoming an American Evelyn Waugh: In a world of people who say things like “Silly old colon. Such a bore,” he at once deflates the pomposities of his “social mountaineers” and makes us wish for their problems. “What a pain butlers were,” notes one of Mayle’s rascals, “when they weren’t yours.” Quite. As in his two Provence memoirs, Mayle writes about French food so lovingly that he virtually establishes a lip-licking new literary genre—call it dinnerotica. But no matter how heavy the meals, Mayle’s touch is always deliciously light. (Knopf, $23)

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