MENERBES, FRANCE -- Around late afternoon in the dusty heat of Provence the incessant tsk-tsking of the cicadas rises from its low, daytime hum to an angry, forceful evening whir.

Even so, it can't drown out the grousing in the Bar du Progres when the name Peter Mayle, best-selling author of "A Year in Provence" -- the man who made this village famous -- is spoken.

"Mayle?" (pronounced "Mile" by the locals) snorts a tiny old man in a blue beret, sticking his nose back into an icy pastis. "Alors, dooon't you talk to me about that one, eh non." The farmers at the bar, their faces burnt brick red and lined with crevices, nod vigorously into their beers.

"He's a joke," says one.

"He's a pain in the rear," says another.

"Nobody knows him here," the barman, Auguste Gu, finally explains. "He came, he observed, he didn't live with the people. He missed the point. Look, the least he could do was be complimentary. He didn't need to come here and say it's rotten."

Touchy, touchy. What did Peter Mayle write that was so terrible? "He said the bar was dirty, he said the dogs were full of fleas," says Michel, a worker at the city hall with inch-thick dirt under his fingernails.

"He criticized the butcher in Goult," someone else offers. "He said the bakery never had bread."

Mayle's book, an account of the British writer's attempt to make a life in the French countryside, has been translated into 17 languages and sold close to 3 million copies, and is still on the bestseller lists in the United States after nearly three years. But if it endeared this countryside to readers around the world, it sure didn't endear Mayle to the countryside's natives.

"Are my glasses dirty? Did you catch fleas in here? Are the toilets really disgusting? Is the area by the window rotten?" rages Henriette Cazaneuve, who owns the Bar du Progres with her husband, Georges. "No. Please. If he wrote things that were true, that would be different."

Says her grizzlylike husband, wearing a red shirt open to the belly: "He said I was like a grizzly. But he didn't tell me that."

No, Peter Mayle is not very popular in the Bar du Progres, which he did, in fact, describe as "an interior decorator's nightmare," casting aspersions on the toilets, the dogs and the glasses.

And he isn't too popular anywhere else in this village of 1,100 inhabitants, either. "I find {the book} pretty egotistical," says Yvonne Dufour, who runs the town's only grocery. A wild boar's head adorns the wall above the cash register. "All he talks about is himself, his stonemason, his plumber, his electrician. He said that we're barbarians because we hunt -- here everybody hunts. He earned his money off us, and then he disappeared."

"He brought us tourists that were not at all necessary and he said bad things about Provence," sniffs an elegant shopper who lives in Paris and has a country house in Menerbes. "We were perfectly content, and then he came and made money on our backs."

"What did you learn from this book? That we eat a lot, that we drink a lot, that everything happens slowly," says Mireille Andre, the Mayles' nearest neighbor. "He may be right. He brings out all the faults of Menerbes. But he was in his pool and the hammock all day long. Let him try a few days of work in the fields."

The sentiment is near-unanimous. Even in city hall, where Mayle might have been considered a favorite son, or at least gotten a plaque, there is indifference at best and scorn at worst. "Sure, we're known all over the world. Sure, we have tourists coming," says Deputy Mayor Alexis Deflaux vaguely. Then he arches two eyebrows. "It's a little surprising that he didn't give a copy {of the book} to city hall. We were a bit -- " he shuffles some papers. "Well, to read the book you have to buy it." He hasn't read the book.

Indeed, the only people evidently willing to defend Peter Mayle -- the author and his wife, Jennie, having fled these parts last fall after six years and too many autograph hunters -- are his farmer neighbors Faustin and Henriette Andre, the bighearted couple who figure large in the book and its best-selling sequel, "Toujours Provence."

"People have to understand, he's a writer," says a kindly-faced, taciturn Faustin, sitting on his vine-trellised porch. He adds, as if in explanation: "We are as we are."

"I don't want people to say bad things about him," says Henriette. "He always brought us presents for Christmas."

Faint praise all the same for a man who put Menerbes on the map. In the early years, after the book came out in England in 1989, it was the English who came in droves, waving copies of the book, and -- as the writer describes in "Toujours Provence" -- inviting themselves into the Mayles' living room. Then it was the Americans, the Dutch, the Germans, the Swiss. This year it's the Japanese -- "A Year in Provence" has sold more than 600,000 copies in Japan since the spring -- who trundle out to the Mayle residence in buses, snapping pictures and shooting home videos. Bar owner Cazaneuve has sold out his stock of 150 copies of the French-language version -- published this year and now on the bestseller list in France -- in which Mayle changed the real-life names of the characters. "Don't confuse commerce with personal feelings," Cazaneuve explains.

And what of the other characters? Where is Antoine Massot, the ill-tempered hunter with the morbid jokes, the ferocious dogs and the recipe for fox? What of Menicucci, the philosopher-plumber who entertained Mayle with thoughtful observations such as, "Do you know that at any given moment during any day in the month of August there are 5,000 people making 'pipi' in the sea?"

Don't ask. Massot, the village eccentric and a semi-recluse, is nowhere to be found. Menicucci, now retired, has an unlisted number and will never forgive Mayle for making him famous.

"We can't stand it," says his wife over the phone (the number provided by their son, Jean-Pierre, who appears in the first book as the carpet-layer). "We were bothered by everyone. Two months ago four journalists came to the house -- foreigners, of course. ... It seems to me that {Mayle} could have made a gesture to my husband. It's an affair that brought him a lot of money -- good for him -- but it was all thanks to my husband. We're not asking for anything -- all we want is a little tranquillity, and we can't find it."

What has Mayle to say about the havoc he has wreaked in the lives of peaceful country folk, to the accusations of slander? The writer, whose novel "Hotel Pastis" was recently published in the United States and who is now in the Bahamas finishing a book about a dog, declines to comment.

His agent, however, protests in his place. "There is a core of complaint, but it is not necessarily objective," says Abner Stein, Mayle's literary representative in Great Britain. "He didn't move to Provence to exploit the area. He didn't even move there to write the book. He went there to write a novel. Peter simply loves France, and he had been saying for years that when he had resources to do it, he'd go back to France and live there, which is exactly what happened."

At base, all of this ill will seems to be an enormous cultural misunderstanding. What Mayle meant as gentle humor, the Menerbians took as deliberate insult. What most readers took to be charming foibles, the locals read as savage criticism.

For some, in fact, Mayle was far too kind. "People here will smile at you for two or three days until you spend a maximum of your money, then they laugh behind your back," says Antoine Court de Gebelin, a native of Paris who owns a hotel in nearby Lacoste. After 25 years here, he says, he is still considered a foreigner. "It's true what's in the book. We've been waiting for a carpenter to finish our cabinets for seven years. And I've changed carpenters three times."

Whatever the reality, Mayle has put his now-famous house up for sale and, according to Stein, is deciding where he wants to live. If he chooses France, it will undoubtedly be a larger, more anonymous and less exposed dwelling.

Meanwhile, at the gray flagstone house separated from the road by rows of grapevines and cherry trees -- where still stands the Unmovable Stone Table and the rose trees planted by the author -- a real estate agent shows the bare interior to a French couple and their son.

Are they aware of the risks of owning Peter Mayle's house? The husband briskly nods. Then he purses his lips, annoyed at the intrusion.

It wouldn't be the last. At the other end of the driveway two French cyclists pause and peer toward the house. "Peter Mile?" they ask hopefully.