Author: Ellen Sussman
Paperback: 236 pages (ARE version)
Publisher: Ballantine/Random House
Published Date: June 2011
FTC: won from Random House Reader's Circle
I was so excited when I won Ellen Sussman's new novel French Lessons from Random House Reader's Circle. Go over there and check out their website - it's pretty good! I thought this would be the perfect book to start out my Paris in July reads. A wonderful blogger, Bree, told me I should start with French Lessons so I jumped right in. She was right...it's the perfect start to a Parisian July. That said, there's many things I did not like about this book and many things I did. So here we go...
Back of the Book:
A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.
Josie, Riley, and Jeremy have come to the City of Light for different reasons: Josie, a young high school teacher, arrives in hopes of healing a broken heart. Riley, a spirited but lonely expat housewife, struggles to feel connected to her husband and her new country. And Jeremy, the reserved husband of a renowned actress, is accompanying his wife on a film shoot, yet he feels distant from her world.
As they meet with their tutors—Josie with Nico, a sensitive poet; Riley with Philippe, a shameless flirt; and Jeremy with the consummately beautiful Chantal—each succumbs to unexpected passion and unpredictable adventures. Yet as they traverse Paris’s grand boulevards and intimate, winding streets, they uncover surprising secrets about one another—and come to understand long-buried truths about themselves.
Let's start off with what I didn't like. Books that have a lot (or any) martial infidelity always make me feel icky. I'm not sure why. It just bothers me. Also be forewarned that's there's a lot of sex. Not making love but S.E.X.
Josie - the first American is grieving over the loss of her, well let's just say it, married lover who recently died and she's pregnant with his child. Ok. So first, her married guy was happily married. What? Second, she got off birth control and they forgot to use a condom. What? Are people stupid? So while I actually kind of liked Josie - I just don't get it. Ew. Moving on.
Riley - the second American is a frustrated housewife with two children who is not in love with her husband, The Victor, anymore. I just didn't relate to her. She was frustrated that she is stuck with oozing breasts and can't go anywhere. Her youngest is over a year old and she's still breast feeding?? If it was bothering her so much, then stop! She also hates Paris and doesn't go anywhere and hates trying to learn the language. Hmm. So what does she do? She sleeps with her tutor. Yeah, because that solves things.
The lessons - mostly pointless. Of the three students, Josie and Jeremy both speak fluently and don't need lessons. Riley just doesn't want to learn. A minor point but it still bothered me.
The men - Josie's married guy and Phillipe, the tutor Riley sleeps with. Wow. If I was going to risk my marriage or someone else's, I think I'd pick different types of guys. They are both very self centered and not attractive to me at all. Just because a guy thought I was attractive, doesn't mean I'd jump in bed with him and do his bidding. These women seem to have no standards at all. This bothered me.
Ok. So that seems like it's a lot and I'd really hate this book. But there were aspects I really enjoyed. I loved the Parisian setting. If you want a short book to sweep you away to Paris for a day or two, grab this one. Just look at a couple of the chapter headings:
Or this one - I loved these art nouveau signs when I was there:
Each chapter starts with a map of the city where the tutor and student spend their day. I loved the sights and sounds of Paris. She did an amazing job. I also love that the whole book takes place in one day and with each account there's this thunder storm that plays a part. Very clever. I wanted to throw the book down in the middle with Riley and Phillipe's story, but then the book redeemed itself with the third story of Jeremy and Chantal. Finally, I thought she had a realistic story. (Oddly enough, how Ellen Sussman came about writing this book (watch the video here), the third story of Jeremy and Chantal, closely resembles her real life account. While working in Paris, Ms. Sussman bought her husband French lessons and his tutor ended up being a real beauty. It was, by far, my favorite story.)
It's during Jeremy's story that it really comes out what this book is about. Chantal tells Jeremy, "But sometimes we have to run away from ourselves in order to find ourselves." (pg 188) Jeremy also asks the question, "What happens to your identity when you take it away from everything familiar?" (pg 189) What do you think?
I really enjoyed the cover to my ARE but here is the one you'll find in the store: