Wednesday, July 20, 2011

book review: French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

French Lessons: A NovelThe backstory: It's Paris in July! If I can't be in Paris (perhaps my all-time favorite city) this July, at least I can read about it.

The basics: French Lessons follows three Americans on one day with their French tutors. The three stories intersect tangentially.

My thoughts: In some ways, French Lessons felt more like stories than a novel. It opens with the three Parisian tutors having coffee. From there, the action is quite segmented. We first meet Josie, a young French teacher and aspiring playwright who has traveled to Paris alone. Her story is told as a mix of flashbacks of her backstory and her current adventure. I loved her story, and I was sad when it ended. Next we meet Riley, an American mom with two young children who now lives in Paris but has not mastered the language at all. Riley's story was more escapist but still intriguing and somewhat dark. Finally, we meet Jeremy, who has traveled with his wife to Paris for their anniversary, but she is busy working. Although the places intersected at times, the stories felt too different. The tutors were not as intriguing to me as the Americans, a sentiment I credit more to the amount of time spent on the lives and feelings of the Americans (they all narrate their section) than the actual likability of the tutors.

I mostly enjoyed French Lessons. It was a fast, engaging read set in my favorite city, Paris. Each section featured a map that showed the walking tour each twosome took. It was lovely to follow along on their journeys (and I have a soft spot for maps in books!) It was a pleasant read, and while I read it I pictured it as a movie. Perhaps because this book was set in actual Paris (i.e. frequent references to familiar streets and landmarks), I was picturing the characters actually in Paris. Regardless, it had a cinematic feel to me, and I found my mind wandering to how I would adapt it. My first thought: restructure the three stories so they all unfold at the same pace. I wish Sussman would have structured her novel that way too. I always enjoy multiple narrators in a novel, and I often find it invigorates my reading. This novel would have felt more cohesive if the stories unfolded by time of day rather than one at a time.

The verdict: French Lessons is a lovely escape into Paris for an afternoon.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: July 5, 2011 (paperback)
Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours

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  1. I love that you say that the book had a cinematic feel to it, and think that it sounds wonderful. I have this book to read very soon, and now you've made me anxious to give it a try. I am wondering if I will also feel the Parisian characters are more interesting than the American ones. Great review today!

  2. This was a fun, fluffy read for me that I liked -- I definitely could have gone for more details about the tutors for sure. I definitely agree about the vignette-y feel to the novel.

  3. This does sound like a great escape for an afternoon! I love a Paris setting for a book as well. (no need to enter me, I have this one, now I just need to read it!).

  4. I wonder if this book would be appealing to fans of short stories, or if it would feel too much like a novel to them? Interesting ...

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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