Monday 5 December 2011

Book Review: French Lessons by Ellen Sussman.

Product details:
Publisher: Corsair.
Paperback, 256 pages.
Release date: November 3rd 2011.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Ages: Adult.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

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.

A day in the life of three French tutors and their American students, Ellen Sussman’s French Lessons is a fun and flirty romp through the streets of Paris. Perfect for guilty pleasure reading, French Lessons is however light on plot and populated with characters that are an acquired taste to say the least, making this one best saved for holiday reading or sometime when you want a little something extra light.

We are first introduced to French tutors Nico, Philippe and Chantal as they share a morning coffee before they go to meet their respective students. We soon learn that these three have tangled love lives, and that their students, Josie, a heartbroken twenty-something, Riley a bored, neglected expat housewife, and Jeremy, the troubled husband of a well-known actress, are each at a crossroads of their own. What follows is a walk around Paris in which we learn of the dark secrets and hidden desires that each of these damaged people is hiding.

While a lack of plot usually wouldn’t bother me in such a book – I am a huge fan of conversational movies, for example, which feature nothing more than two people sharing their thoughts as they walk around beautiful cities (Before Sunset, Before Sunrise) -  the characters in French Lessons are simply unlikeable, their conversations mostly mundane.  While Paris acts as a pretty backdrop to this book, in never takes center stage, which is a shame.  In a book that could have been romantic and charming, the characters are instead driven by lust, passion and fantasies, and while it’s fun for a while, it soon becomes rather bland as turning each page just brings more of the same.

A book on the theme of infidelity and the different forms it can take, French Lessons could have been something special but with its one track mind and one-dimensional characters, it fell a little flat for me. However, if I had read this on a sunny spring day in Paris instead of a rainy winter’s day in Ireland, my thoughts might be entirely different, so I wouldn’t totally rule out adding this one to your holiday reading list!


  1. I read this recently and completely agree with what you said. It was a shame that the author didn't take advantage of the surroundings of Paris as it could have add to the plot (or lack there of). Too bad.

  2. It doesn't sound like the book that I should take with me when I'm travelling to Paris..One day.. :) Great review.

  3. I usually don't mind a book with a lack of plot either if the characters are strong and intriguing and there's fun dialogue. Too bad their unlikeable and their conversations a bit boring, but I do like that it's set in Paris:) That would keep me interested for a little while probably!

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