Review: French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

French Lessons / Ellen Sussman

Published July 5th 2011 by Random House Publishing Group.

Paris.  The city of sex.  The city of clandestine affairs.  Basically, this whole book has “clandestine affairs” as a common theme.  And Paris.

The book is about three Americans in Paris and their respective French tutors.  They are in Paris for different reasons.  And all of them are looking to find themselves in the alluring and romantic city of lights. It starts with Josie and her charming teacher Nico, looking to heal a broken heart.  Nico helps her find that closure and at the same time, Josie helps him realize his true love.  Riley, an expat’s wife, and her tutor Philippe go into a risky relationship with themselves and each other.  And finally, Jeremy’s last day with his teacher Chantal finds the student imparting more lessons to the teacher than the other way around.

It is like a collection of three short stories.  The book itself is fairly short, less than 300 pages so it’s an easy read.  The stories are very well-crafted and fast paced.  It was candid and light.  For me, the French characters are more likable than the American ones.  All of them are, in some way, tragic and they felt raw.  Philippe and Josie, mostly.  Some situations were slightly unrealistic but the writing is poetic and beautiful.  And a little bit racy.  The three couples end up in the same place and that’s the one thing that I didn’t really get.

Paris is such a great backdrop to the story.  It’s like a love letter to Paris.  I picture it like I was looking through a dreamy haze.  I’ve always wanted to visit Paris, to see for myself why a lot of people dream of going there.  From all the books that I’ve read about it, it’s seems like a whole new world.  Also, I think the French language is romantic.  Maybe I’ll get my own French lessons while I’m there.

In the novel, Chantal says, “But sometimes we have to run away from ourselves in order to find ourselves”.  I think this is the whole book in a nutshell.  And it also rings true for a lot of people.  Soul-searching is pretty much getting away from life as we know it to find our true selves.  Josie, Riley, and Jeremy managed to find theirs in Paris.

Rating: 4/5.

Recommendation: A light romantic story if you want to be swept off to Paris, even in dreams.

Get your copy here.

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