“French Lessons” by Ellen Sussman
Admit it. Somewhere in the back of your head is the notion that, should you happen to go to Paris, epic and sweeping romance will follow, accompanied by wine and croissants and all those other simply marvelous, incredibly French things we see in the movies all the time.
Ellen Sussman’s “French Lessons” sat on my bookcase for far too long. The description – three Americans spend the day with three French tutors and learn lessons about love – seemed like something that could so easily go wrong and wander into schmaltzy chick-lit.
Once again, I learn to stop judging books.
I need to just shut up and read more often.
“French Lessons” is a really great book. It consists of three separate stories, each of which seems deeply personal and gets to the heart of the reader. American #1 lost her married man lover and has come to Paris seeking something she’s not even sure of. American #2 is a frazzled mom/wife who’s coming to the realization that her life isn’t as perfect as it should be. American #3 is the devoted husband of a movie star who is filming in Paris. These three people spend their day with three separate French tutors, and as they wander the sites of the city of light, discoveries are made, love is born, and secrets come out.
Sussman writes with understated beauty. She simply tells these stories in straightforward ways with a few tricks here and there. The way she juxtaposes American #1’s present and past is incredibly well done, and never reveals anything until it’s the perfect timing. My favorite sequence in the book involves Riley, the mom who actually hates being in Paris. Sussman differentiates the three characters so well through their writing, you can feel the frustration and rage in Riley as you read her section. If anything, “French Lessons” is a book about realizations and remembering that we’re supposed to be happy – and that, if we’re not happy, things can be changed. All three Americans (and two of the tutors) wind up making big changes/realizing big lessons as a result of this one special day.
I’m a big fan of this book, and I’m going to recommend it around, especially to my female friends. (After all, it is still about romance and Paris.) It might be chick-lit, but it’s definitely an elevated version.
Who doesn’t love Paris?