This is a coming of age story set in a remote set of villages during the Cultural Revolution. The tone is whimsical and humourous. Where it looks at the oppression of the cultural revolution it looks at the small oppressions and not the big things.
It is first and foremost a book on the liberating power of literature. In particular, it is inspired by 19th century French novels (unsurprising, given the title). The book actually was originally written in French and shares a lot of good things with the 19th century novels it references, although it is very much a modern work.
Its really very good. Sharply drawn with a sense of absurdity and full of a yearning for freedom and a love of literature. It very much stands at a crossroads of modern Chinese and Western culture.
Well worth reading.