I was lucky to receive an ARC of FRENCH LESSONS from a Goodreads contest, and being the sucker that I am for chick lit and France, I was eager to read it. I finally found myself picking it up and jumping in, and the first thing I noticed was the writing style – third person, present tense, and a distinct leaning towards the poetic and literary. The immediate problem – this style of writing immediately seems more forced than effortless. In my experience, this literary lilt is much harder to pull off than your normal, everyday prose, and I feel that Sussman didn’t pull it off like I hoped she would.
The story follows three French tutors and their American clients over the course of a day in Paris, further linked by the filming of a movie on the Pont des Arts in Paris. The story is told mostly in the form of three linked vignettes connected with two short before and after scenes amongst the tutors Nico, Chantal, and Philippe. Their clients are Americans Josie, Riley, and Jeremy, in Paris for various reasons, but all suffering from relationship issues, person problems, identity crises, etc. Having visited Paris in January (for 12 hours on a day trip from London) and having taken two years of French in high school, I wanted to love this book. Instead, I only kinda sorta liked it.
Why, you ask? I felt no connection with the characters. Any of them. They all seemed like two dimensional characters that I couldn’t see as real. I didn’t feel them or believe in them. And, being so short, the story didn’t really give us any closure for many of the characters, and happy endings were in short supply.
Sussman has a tendency to use French language to convey things to other characters, except one teensy weensy problem… The characters understand, but the reader who hasn’t had a French class since 2002? Ehm… I had Google translate open on my computer ready and waiting and I was still confused.
But something about this book kept me intrigued and I finished it relatively quickly considering I was reading other stuff at the same time. It was interesting, the imagery of Paris stunning and alluring, but I couldn’t connect with the characters and their stories. I was more invested in discovering more about the City of Lights than the people inhabiting it. I think Sussman might have missed the boat a little on this, but she still delivers an interesting, light summer read that mixes literary fiction with a beachy flair that makes this ideal for the pool.
VERDICT: With characters that aren’t easy to connect to but a fascinating story to set the scene, FRENCH LESSONS doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to, but for a beach read, it’s fairly good.
See my review at http://bookbrats.blogspot.com/2011/09...