Author: Ellen Sussman
Published: Ballantine Books; July 2011
Synopsis: A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.
Josie, Riley, and Jeremy have come to the City of Light for different reasons: Josie, a young high school teacher, arrives in hopes of healing a broken heart. Riley, a spirited but lonely expat housewife, struggles to feel connected to her husband and her new country. And Jeremy, the reserved husband of a renowned actress, is accompanying his wife on a film shoot, yet he feels distant from her world.
As they meet with their tutors—Josie with Nico, a sensitive poet; Riley with Phillippe, a shameless flirt; and Jeremy with the consummately beautiful Chantal—each succumbs to unexpected passion and unpredictable adventures. Yet as they traverse Paris’s grand boulevards and intimate, winding streets, they uncover surprising secrets about one another—and come to understand long-buried truths about themselves.
My Take: I think by now it's been established that I enjoy a little armchair traveling. If a book is set somewhere outside of the US, I'll be more inclined to read it!
Such was the case with Ellen Sussman's French Lessons. While fiction it is written almost as if it is three separate short stories, each exploring a different part of Paris and a different cast of characters. However, they are all linked in that half of the characters in each of the three vignettes are taking French lessons and the other half are the teachers all from the same school. At the beginning of the novel the teachers meet up at a cafe and you learn how they, Nico, Phillippe, and Chantal, are interconnected, and believe me, it's not just because they teach at the same school!
Without giving too much of the story away, because the individual stories themselves aren't that long, the three individual lessons the teachers give are each both different, poignant, and fascinating. It's a rainy day in Paris and they each decide, for different reasons to take their students on a walk around Paris to help them learn a little more. Sidenote, each section starts with a map of their walk - love this!! One of the students is a teacher visiting Paris on a short trip. She teachers French at a high school in America and had booked this lesson as a way to hone her skills. However, when she booked the trip it was meant to be a happy occasion but because of extenuating circumstances, it has turned into a painfully sad one. Another student is a women who moved to Paris with her family and is now a housewife. She needs to learn French because she lives here now but has completely lost herself as a person since moving to a foreign county. And finally, we have the third person, a male student. He is visiting with his famous wife and is often in her shadows. However, taking a French lesson without her, he can shine.
I enjoyed all of these stories and would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for an easy, and slightly saucy, read about Paris!
Cover Lust: I think this cover is somewhat fitting, although it does look like this woman is from the 1950s or 1960s and this book is not set in that era at all.