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The Chateau

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  488 ratings  ·  71 reviews
It is 1948, and a young American couple arrive in France for a holiday, full of anticipation and enthusiasm. But the countryside and people are war-battered, and their reception at the Chateau Beaumesnil is not all the open-hearted Americans could wish for.
Paperback, 402 pages
Published December 28th 2000 by Vintage Classics (first published January 1st 1961)
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3.59  · 
Rating details
 ·  488 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well-written (Maxwell doesn't write any other way) novel with a nostalgic feel (again, Maxwell doesn't seem to write any other way), with the longer first part (of two) reading almost like a travel diary at times; and just when you're wondering, near the end of that first part, what it might all mean, you arrive at the second part, which is almost meta-fiction, and requires the first part to achieve its ends.

Though the novel is not at all derivative, Maxwell's love for Virginia Woolf
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, audible
I had never read any Maxwell before, nor based upon the descriptions of his other work, am I likely to do so - those themes just don't interest me. But, I decided to spend an Audible credit on this one, after listening to the sample. A good choice as it turned out.

Without rehashing the plot (too much), a young American couple tour Europe in 1948, during the rebuilding of the former war zone. For the first part of the book, they're based at a country estate of a family that takes in lodgers to ma
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
A strange book. When I try and say what it's about, all I can think to say is that it's about a couple on vacation. But there's so much more. Maxwell captures perfectly the feelings of alienation in the traveler. There's the social disappointments, the inadvertent offense given, the anxiety about being taken advantage of. The book has its own weird sort of suspense. It's by no means a potboiler, but you read to find out what's behind the mysterious behavior of other characters and to see if the ...more
Debbie Robson
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s ridiculous but I have put off this review of William Maxwell’s The Chateau for over six months. Why? Well for the uninitiated Maxwell was a legendary mentor for many famous writer of his day and he edited The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975. So, how dare I critique his work. What could I have to say? But of course the other part of me was fascinated. What were his novels like? The Chateau intrigued me. Two young Americans visit in France in 1948.
Quite straight forward to start with. Harold and
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, found
What a refreshing change from the hectic melodrama of Haweswater! Maxwell's style is clipped and urbane, of its time (1961) with a hint of modernism (talking furniture ...). Somehow what should be a mundane travel journal with no plot to speak of is endlessly captivating, as the naive young American couple Harold and Barbara fall in love with France but consistently struggle to grasp what's going on around them and understand all the subtle nuances of social interaction with the family they stay ...more
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Maxwell, William. THE CHATEAU. (1961). ****. I’ve said it before: Maxwell was one of America’s finest writers. This novel – though not his best – demonstrates how he was able to enfold the reader into a story where nothing dramatic really happens. It tells the story of Harold and Barbara, a young couple married for three years, and their trip to France on vacation in 1948. They spend most of their time in the Loire Valley, at the chateau of Mme. Viennot as paying guests. Mme. Viennot is one of t ...more
Russell George
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
A strange novel really. I discovered William Maxwell by picking up a copy of his novella 'They Came Like Swallows', which I loved, but this never quite gets going. It's the story of an American couple visiting France just after the Second World War, and the various French friends that they make along the way. It's a study of the friendships that we make when travelling, and though there is a precision and clarity to the writing that I enjoyed, it felt like an idea for another novella bloated by ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Enough! Bastante! Abbastanza! I'm not gonna try to read this anymore. Can this be the same author who wrote the pointed and precise So Long, See You Tomorrow?

I spent days and days forcing myself to keep trying with this book. It was all I could do to get through a chapter a day, sometimes not even that. I made it to page 138. It felt more like drudgery than an enjoyable reading experience, so I quit.

The book has its good moments. I stayed with it as long as I did because it was interesting to
May 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bath-book-group
Having read most of the book before our Book Group meeting I felt that I should perhaps finish it. Now I wish I hadn't wasted my time. Such a tedious trek through Barbara and Harold's holiday and not saved by the final chapter "Some Explanations" which were also uninteresting. I will be glad to remove this book from my bookshelf.
Julie Christine
This is a rare gem of a book. It is so perfect in its depiction of traveling and falling in love with another country that, not only would I not change a word, I found section after section I wanted to absorb into my skin. Although written sixty years ago and set just after World War II, the interactions and reactions of a young American couple with the French and in France remain relevant, painful, hilarious, and true.

Its peaceful pace belies the profound transformation of its principal charac
May 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
"The Chateau" doesn't measure up to William Maxwell's best novels in any way. I'm a big fan of Maxwell's lean, simple, evocative, very human writing, but this book was slow and dull; it's a big disappointment for those weened on Maxwell's much better novels such as "Time Will Darken It" (one of my favorites). I confess I couldn't even make it through "The Chateau," though I got well into it, hoping it would improve. I feel bad for those whose first Maxwell is this novel; they have no idea how go ...more
Apr 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Despite my fascination with The New Yorker, I only found out about this writer through the TLS (and had to buy it at the time from and it sounded like the perfect book to buy for an upcoming trip to France. Maxwell's gentle prose and nostalgic story grabbed me at a time when I was no longer reading many novels and I fell completely in love with it.
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was a bit disappointed. I found it a bit rambling.
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
If it weren't so well-written, William Maxwell's novel, The Chateau, would bore you to death. And if the inventive coda weren't so cheeky and authoritative, the novel as a whole would be a very great flop.

The problem is this: Two newly married Americans go to France in the late '40s and they suffer all the indignities four months of tourism can offer: luggage difficulties, overcharges, opaque cultural rebuffs lightly sweetened with polite formalities, dreadful rooms, no hot water, bad food, endl
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france
This was a very delicate, slow book, and - without spoiling anything - it remained realistically focused on alienation and interior motives. I kept waiting for the kicker, the twist, the dark side of human nature to pop up, but no, this book was faithful to the good-natured and well- intentioned misunderstandings, frustrations, and miscommunications of being a foreigner. Post-war France was obviously not all roses and daisies, which the idealistic couple slowly learns as they tour bullet-pocked ...more
Megan Chance
Aug 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, but I think it's not for every reader. The writing is beautiful and in some places feels a bit experimental--which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't. The story is about an American couple on a months-long vacation in Europe, though it focuses specifically on their time in France, and much of the book is set during their two weeks in a country chateau, where they are paying guests. Nothing happens in this book. It is very deliberately paced. The narrative tension comes thr ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
A rich and romantic story of a young American couple visiting France shortly after WW2; not Maxwell's best but still enjoyable. As Howard and Barbara Rhodes fall in love with France and its culture, they want to BE French and relate on an easy and intimate level with everyone they meet. Of course this isn't possible, and there is much self examination and recrimination, as well as self-congratulation when they get it right. The motives of their hosts and new acquaintances are often mysterious an ...more
Jul 28, 2016 rated it liked it
An American couple, early in their marriage, spend a couple of months sightseeing in France soon after the second world war. They stay at a chateau belonging to an older woman and meet several relatives and friends. There is confusion at times about others feelings towards them because of difference in language and culture. They also spend time in Paris, enjoying many of the attractions of the city and they visit other chateaus in the countryside. The only plot seems to be their interaction with ...more
Pete Dorey
May 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Gave up half-way through, because it was so tedious. Watching paint dry would have been scintillating in comparison.
Harold and Barbara have breakfast in the French chateau they are holidaying in; Harold and Barbara go on an excursion; Harold and Barbara have lunch; Harold and Barbara go on an excursion; Harold and Barbara have dinner with their equally boring guests; Harold and Barbara go to bed in their cold, damp room.
Repeat for 402 pages, and rue the fortnight of your life that you will never
Lucy Ponton
Apr 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
I tried to finish this but couldn't. An American couple staying in France and paying money to stay in a Chateau but didn't like asking to have hot water, having use of bicycles etc. Blah! The story before they got to the Chateau was the most interesting! Once I found I was skipping pages I realised it was time to stop!
Claire McAlpine
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting read that I am still thinking about, wondering how much my thoughts are influenced by having lived in France for six years, so I don't see it through the eyes of someone who hasn't encountered french culture up close, more like someone in-between, not on the inside, not quite on the outside either.
Brenna Bonner
May 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
Mmmmmm... a perfect depiction of miscommunications and misunderstandings between cultures and languages. Lacks passion, humor, or illicitation of any feelings other then "oh, that's too bad for them." Forgettable?
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Moral of the story: Americans and Europeans just don't get each other. Particularly not after a war experience that was hugely different for each.
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
I really liked his reflections on being abroad, but I didn't get anything out of the story itself. I would have preferred a non-fiction essay by him on travel, living abroad, etc.
Robert Mooney
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Maxwell. Great writer.
The Chateau. Not his best.
Worth reading, nonetheless.
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Maxwell is a writer's writer, which is another way of saying he is under-read and generally under-appreciated. This long novel has two of his signature strengths: a wry, understated empathy and a surprising willingness to experiment. Adjectives like Jamesian or Woolfesque get thrown around a little too often; Maxwell is his own thing and a very good thing indeed. The novel describes the extended European vacation, centered primarily on France, of Harold and Barbara Rhodes. They are young ...more
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book during my first visit to Paris. At first, it reads like a travelogue with a young American couple visiting different parts of Europe right after WWII. But the novel has excellent internal monologue as the narrator always worries that he has misspoken, mispronounced or been misunderstood. It is an excellent take on being an outsider in a foreign land and never feeling quite at home, even when you can speak the language fairly well. Having just been to Paris, ...more
A young middle-class American couple holidaying in France after WW2. Harold and Barbara struggle through meeting, understanding and becoming acquaintances with the inscrutable French. There is no real depth to Harold and Barbara, they are as they are: American tourists. The writing is considered and does little to evoke the sights and sounds of Paris, yet it somehow suits this story of manners and misunderstandings. It coaxes you into asking questions to solve all the little mysteries hinted at ...more
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: modern-fiction
Even though Mr. Maxwell writes with such skill and heart, I was disappointed with this book. For me, his masterpiece will always be "They Came Like Swallows" which reduced me to tears. This book felt like such a departure from his other fine work. It read like an elegant travel narrative with gorgeous descriptions of architecture and landscape. The atmospherics were tremendous. But the couple seemed to this reader to be very self-involved and awfully concerned about what sort of impression they ...more
Susie Cross
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I looooove Maxwell.
But the only interesting part of this book is how the American couple are shunned and retreat, then charmed and sucked back in. I keep skipping paragraphs and skimming, and I think, though I am 1/2+ through, I might abandon this clunker. Interested in how others could rate it above a 2.5.... Even his prose seems flat and un engaging to me.
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William Keepers Maxwell Jr. was an American novelist, and fiction editor at the New Yorker. He studied at the University of Illinois and Harvard University. Maxwell wrote six highly acclaimed novels, a number of short stories and essays, children's stories, and a memoir, Ancestors (1972). His award-winning fiction, which is increasingly seen as some of the most important of the 20th Century, has r ...more
“...human thought is by no means as private as it seems, and all that you need to read somebody else's mind is the willingness to read your own.” 1 likes
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