Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication: March 2013
This was a book I bid on, and won through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s for the very obvious reason that it is a book set in Paris. The novel was sold as a story of a young college graduate living in Paris in 1989 during a world of political upheaval, working for an over-bearing boss. Despite all of the materials and history available to the author, and despite her exceptional knowledge of France and literature, this book fell short on many levels.
1. Location. Although the book is set in Paris, hardly any of the characters are actually French. In fact, this book and its various plot-lines could have taken in any city in any country. I’m not exactly sure how the title fits into the story, as the main character, Katie, has very little to learn in French. Which the author makes clear from the very beginning. Katie’s French accent is perfect.
2. Character Development. All of the characters, even the soul-searching Katie are shallow and unappealing. There is little background provided for the characters and even less that makes them endearing. I think part of the problem is the author’s writing style. She doesn’t show or reveal character traits or growths, but instead tries to pass along the knowledge through Katie’s musings of her surroundings. With everyone constantly telling Katie how “naive” and innocent she is, I found her to be an unreliable narrator. Although she was determined to fit into the glitz and glamour of being an assistant for a world-famous photo-journalist, I didn’t see or get a feel for any of the glitz or glamour that Katie so desperately clung to.
3. Devil Wears Prada lite. This book reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada in a number of ways, with the number one spot going to the misunderstand yet bitchy boss, Lydia Schell. Her relationship with her husband is messy at best, but I found her to be void of any depth in the novel.
4. Author’s prose. While Reyl is incredibly well-read and knows Paris inside and out, her writing style needed more work. Again, she tells rather than shows her points. The characters fall flat, the various love triangles are boring and feel forced, and all the resolutions at the end of the novel feel too clean-cut. Katie dragged her feet developing into her person while working for Lydia in Paris, and I think this held the novel back some. Her relationship with Olivier and her acknowledge of her cousin Etienne’s troubles at the end of the book came too late to really make much of an impact to the story. Despite her “growth” she still played the role of the desperate doormat for the Schell’s attention and affection.
The book is a quick read. It’s too heavy to be chick-lit, but by most accounts meets the criteria. In regards to books set in France, this book didn’t hit the mark and there was not enough in the novel to satisfy.