French Lessons by Ellen Sussman
Author: Ellen Sussman
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Paris / Romance / Americans Abroad)
Publisher/Publication Date: Ballantine Books (7/12/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked a great deal!
Did I finish?: Yes, another quick three hour read (this time, inhaled at a local coffee shop).
One-sentence summary: A single day in Paris, following three pairs of people -- Parisian language tutors and their American students -- as they experience love, loss, desire, fear, and hope.
Reading Challenges: None.
Do I like the cover?: Yes, although I don't think it really hints at any of the characters in the novel. I actually prefer the cover of my ARC, which is whimsical but fits each of the three stories featured.
I'm reminded of...: Diane Johnson, Melissa Bank
First line: Brilliant sunlight spills through the windows of the Vivre à la Française language school.
Did... I love the small maps that outlined the walk taken by each pair?: YES. That the routes taken in the novel are real made the stories feel a bit more romantic and real and certainly makes me yearn for a trip to Paris!
Did... I really like all the characters?: YES. Even though I'm totally a judger when it comes to infidelity, I found I liked, related to, and cared about everyone in this novel.
Did... I want to run away to Paris after reading this book?: YES. That's a given!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this is a totally fun summer read, great for sharing among friends.
Why did I get this book?: I'm a Francophile and I especially love stories of Americans in Paris.
Review: This delightful book is my kind of beach read: fabulous urban location (Paris!), seemingly uncomplicated characters who actually have great depth, lovely language, and heady discussions of love and loss written in an accessible and deft way.
Initially, I thought I wasn't going to dig this book since infidelity was clearly going to be a theme of the novel but I found Sussman's writing and characters had depth and complicated back stories (presented in a clear, light, moving way). Even if my puritanical self was initially resistant to feeling sympathy for Josie, the American teacher mourning in Paris after losing her married lover, Sussman provoked me into caring for her as her lovelorn language tutor, Nico, found things to empathise and admire in her. Every character in this novel felt immediately familiar and yet did something to surprise me, and I literally inhaled this novel in hours.
Based on Sussman's previous books, it's obvious she likes sex and the frisson of desire, and she's unabashed about that in these three stories. It might be a little too graphic for some readers, but I didn't mind: it moved the plot, felt appropriate to the story and characters, and was sexy and sad in equal part which made it all the more poignant (to me).
I went to sleep thinking of this book and woke up wanting to read it, and that's the sign of a totally great read. I was apprehensive that the three couples and their vignettes wouldn't come together for a satisfying conclusion but Sussman pulled one together that was just what I wanted. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a summertime armchair escape.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of French Lessons to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment with your email address to enter. US/CA readers only, ends 7/22.