Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

French Lessons: A Novel
This review is part of Paris in July :)

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman follows three French tutors and their "students" through one day in Paris.  The tutors basically walk around Paris with the Americans assigned to them and teach them the French language while showing them architecture and culture.  Each individual has some sort of inner turmoil that they can't keep their minds off of during their sessions, and the lessons are in a way a sort of therapy for everyone. 

The book is separated into sections by tutor and student, and we follow each pair throughout their day.  I wasn't really sure how I was going to like the format, but I think it worked out well.  Each pair does their own thing but eventually everyone ends up at the same spot in the end.  Each section also flipflopped from the present time in Paris to something from each individual's past.  For example, the first American we meet is a woman named Josie who has just lost her lover.  While she's on the tour/lesson, she keeps being reminded of things she did with her lover.  I thought the book started off pretty slow, but that may be because I didn't connect as well with Josie and her tutor.  The other sections I enjoyed a lot more. 
I loved the setting of the book.  Sussman captured Paris beautifully, and if you read this book for no other purpose than that, then I think you'll be happy.  I was reminded quite often of my favorite food and beverages from France.  The characters drink cafe creme (jealous!!!) and eat pain au chocolat (whyyyyy the temptation??!). 

One thing I really enjoyed about French Lessons is how each character seems to be having just an ordinary day in Paris, but this day ends up being sort of a turning point for everyone.  Their problems aren't solved, but they all realize something that they need to change, or find some hope for the future and strength to start overcoming their problems.  It also seemed to me like each pair (tutor/student) seemed to help each other unknowingly.  Just being with a stranger who knows nothing about the other's plight seemed to be good for everyone.  The book seems like it's going to be very lighthearted, but once to start reading you realize it's about much more serious emotions like love, loss, grief, and hope. 

I did have some qualms with the book.  It was by no means perfect.  The writing for example wasn't anything exceptional.  There were times when things seemed a little bit unclear.  I also wish that the author had elaborated a bit more on certain things.  The whole premise of book seems a bit "fairytale-esque" at times too.  It's not likely that 3 tutors with problems will get 3 students with problems and sort of solve things on the same exact day.  But this is fiction, so if you don't think too hard about it, it's okay.  I also thought that the writing was a little bit choppy.  Scenes and thoughts seemed to jump around a lot.

I think this is a great summer beach read, especially if you want something a bit more "fluffy" where everything is straightforward.  Like I said above, the setting alone made me want to read this and it didn't disappoint in that respect.  All in all, not a bad book, but definitely not for everyone.

Title: French Lessons
Author: Ellen Sussman
Date of Publication: July 5th, 2011
Number of Pages: 256
Genre: Fiction
Source: ARC from Publisher

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