Monday, August 5, 2013

Lessons in French

Author: Hilary Reyl

Source: Library

Summary: (goodreadsIt’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is coming down, and Kate has just graduated from Yale, eager to pursue her dreams as a fledgling painter. When she receives a job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she immediately accepts. It’s a chance not only to be at the center of it all, but also to return to France for the first time since she was a lonely nine-year-old girl, sent to the outskirts of Paris to live with cousins while her father was dying. Kate may speak fluent French, but she arrives at the Schell household in the fashionable Sixth Arrondissement both dazzled and wildly impressionable. She finds herself surrounded by a seductive cast of characters, including the bright, pretentious Schells, with whom she boards, and their assortment of famous friends; Kate’s own flamboyant cousin; a fellow Yalie who seems to have it all figured out; and a bande of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. As Kate rediscovers Paris and her roots there, while trying to fit into Lydia’s glamorous and complicated family, she begins to question the kindness of the people to whom she is so drawn as well as her own motives for wanting them to love her.

In compelling and sympathetic prose, Hilary Reyl perfectly captures this portrait of a precocious, ambitious young woman struggling to define herself in a vibrant world that spirals out of her control. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family.(

Review: Kate is perhaps the most naïve character that I have ever come across. Her rendezvous in Paris is a wild tale that is positively difficult to imagine. How could someone as silly as Kate have such a high adventure and come out relatively unscathed? Kate reeks of bad decision-making skills and it makes her hard to sympathize with. From the beginning, she begins quite the fling with the household’s daughter’s boyfriend. And she somehow falls in love with him at first sight. Madly in love.

Her judgement is based on what she believes others want to hear. She is at the beck and call of a horrid boss and silly Kate feels honored to be in her position. She forms attachments and feels herself a part of the family when in reality she is nothing more than a servant. Her title is a complete euphemism.

Despite her vile character flaws, Kate isn’t the worst character in this Parisian setting. Her fling is an insipid opportunist with a mother complex. Her boss knows every weakness and also how to exploit everyone in her family. If you can call the Schell household a family. Which you probably won’t after reading this novel. The husband of the batty boss is a pathetic, sniveling fool. The children are unsurprisingly pitiful as well. If I had grown up a child of Lydia Schell, I would indeed need psychiatric help. And pills. Lots of pills. It is a crazy book. A crazy story.

Still, there are the characters that bring a sort of balance and sense of normalcy. Ettiene is Kate’s French cousin and fairly stable. Her new American friend Christie is also relatable. Kate’s mother is by far the most logical and grounded persona in this novel. Will Kate be able to take in some of those positive traits? Please read this to find out.

Despite my negativity toward the characters, I find that the urge to throw this book across the room is a sign of a compelling novel. Since I borrowed this from the library, I would never throw it. But I did have the urge to in a few instances. I think the progression of the novel is reasonably spaced and full of interesting events. By the end of the novel, there is a great sense of just barely having escaped something truly catastrophic. The writer built up the setting and added in many details pertinent to the time period. It felt as if I were a part of a global community.

This is quite an adventurous book full of contradictory characters. I bet that once you start, you will be hooked, wondering how our silly narrator will come out of Paris.

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Not a five because I didn’t see much chemistry between any of the romantically involved characters. Also, the secondary French characters were very abstract and had little personality. And Kate is a complete fool...

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