Monday 2 July 2012

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

Nico, Chantal and Philippe are tutors at a French Language school in Paris. Nico has feelings for Chantal and they recently had a one-night stand but Chantal doesn't return Nico's love. She is with Philippe, despite his numerous flings with other women.

Josie is in Paris alone. Her married lover bought the tickets for them before he was tragically killed so, escaping from her private grief, Josie has taken the trip by herself. After hiring a tutor for the day, she meets Nico and finds herself confiding in him. For the first time since Simon died, Josie finds herself having a conversation and even laughing.

Riley is a mother of two young children who has been living in Paris for a year. She hasn't told anybody but she hates living in Paris. Her husband is always working and her son speaks the language better than she does. To rectify this, Riley has been taking lessons with tutor, Philippe.

Jeremy is in Paris with his actress wife, Dana. It is their anniversary but Dana is busy shooting her latest film. To occupy her husband during the day, she hires Chantal to improve his french.
Jeremy loves his wife but he can't help feeling overshadowed by his wife's career. He feels like she is slipping away from him and he doesn't know how to bring her back.

French Lessons is set over the course of a single day, with a section for each tutor/student pairing. I wasn't sure how such a tiny time frame would work for an entire novel but it did and it had a surprising fast pace instead of being packed with simple, mundane activities.

With the separate sections and the fact that the students never meet, it felt a bit like three short stories, anchored together by the three tutors and the events of the day. Each pair end up watching the film shoot at the river, giving the three stories a universal feel. While the three students never meet, they are all in a smiliar prediciment, feeling lost in some way or another and struggling with love and their own personal circumstances.

My favourite character to read about was Riley. I really felt for her, stuck in a foreign city where she doesn't seem to fit in and she feels herself drifting away from her husband. She is lonely and trapped and can't seem to find a way out.

On a superficial note, I loved the map and sketches that divided each section of the book and I liked the simple, elegant cover.

Thank you to Constable and Robinson for sending me a copy to review.

French Lessons will be published on Thursday 5th July and I will be chatting to Ellen Sussman on Saturday 7th July.

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