Three Americans are taking French language tuition from a language school in the city of romance, Paris, and the novel focuses on the events that happen during the course of the same one day as each of them strolls around the city speaking French with their own individual French tutor. In the short opening section of the book, we are briefly introduced to the tutors, Nico, Philippe and Chantal, and we discover a little about the history between the three of them. Then the novel consists of three separate short stories told as the day in Paris unwinds, first for Nico and his new student Josie who has suffered a loss and is on a trip alone that was meant to be for two, then Philippe and Riley, the wife and mother who is in Paris due to her husbands' job, and finally Chantal and Jeremy, who has spent the week with her whilst his film-star wife shoots a movie, and this is his last day of tuition. The novel concludes with a final short section about the tutors as they meet again at the end of the day.
More character driven than plot driven, the three students of French all have their flaws and they all have different relationship issues, doubts, or problems, and it's interesting to dip into each of their lives briefly and discover these conflicts. The novel explores different aspects of love, passion and sex, (at one point explicitly), and conveys the confusion and feeling of being lost and looking for direction in life and love.
The ultimate outcome of this day in Paris for all of them seems to be a new clarity and understanding of their situations, gained through the discussions and time spent with these strangers, their tutors. In fact this finding a moment of clarity and decisiveness is true for at least one of the tutors too.
This is a relatively quick read, it's fun and a bit of an escape, it tells of love, passion and desire, and it's enjoyable to hear some famous Parisian sights name-dropped as the pairs move around the city. My favourite story was the first one, about Josie and Nico. I would be interested to see what the author does next.
on 4 October 2011
From the first page of French Lessons, I was completely hooked! The way the author writes is really lyrical and you can tell that she knows Paris very well. What you get from this novel is a fascinating insight into the lives of six very different characters, as you learn about the romantic threads that they each weave. I really connected with the characters, especially Josie's poignant story - I won't say how it ends, I'd hate to give anything away. After I finished reading, it just made me want to jump on the Eurostar and head over to Paris. I haven't read a book like this for ages, I just didn't want it to end!
on 17 October 2011
A charming and enjoyable read. Well written characters that draw you in to their world. On the surface some of the characters are not morally likeable but the book is so readable that you cannot pass judgement. It is like walking in someone else's shoes to understand their choices.
The story takes place over a single day in Paris and revolves around six people. The prologue introduces the reader to three French tutors; Nico, Philippe and Chantal. The tutors are three very different people who are linked by not just their jobs, but through their mixed-up personal lives too.
The story is then split into three separate sections. In the first, the reader follows Nico and his pupil Josie, we then accompany Philippe and Riley and finally Chantal and Jeremy.
The three couples wander the streets of Paris, exploring the beautiful city and finding out little pieces of each other's lives as they walk.
There is a certain air of detachment about both the story and the characters as a whole which is understandable as the whole book takes place during just one day. This is not a criticism, it only adds to the mystery of the characters and their feelings and behaviours.
One would expect a story set in Paris to be a story of romance and whilst there is certainly an abundance of fairly explicit sexual activity, this is not really a romantic read.
It is a story about loneliness and loss, of expectations and hopes and is most definitely character driven rather than a fast, action filled plot.
The three stories are very cleverly woven together, and although the character's inner most thoughts and ideas are exposed, there still remains a mystery about all of them.
The city of Paris takes centre stage in this novel, the streets, the cafes, the museums and the people are wonderfully described and brought to life.
I didn't realise when I began reading this book that although the characters were linked by the fact that they are all French language tutors in Paris, the rest of the book is actually separate tales of what each of them gets up to in the city with their latest students, and the effects this has on them as people. The book starts with the three tutors, Chantal, Nico and Philippe meeting in a café, awaiting their students for the day, not expecting to be dealt the hands they are. Nico meets American French tutor Josie, who is getting over the death of someone close to her, but is also hiding a secret she doesn't know how to deal with. Philippe meets American housewife Riley, who now lives in Paris with her family, but her marriage might be falling apart. Riley knows its wrong but feels the pull of Philippe away from her husband. Finally, Chantal is paired with film star's husband Jeremy, a man playing second fiddle to his superstar wife. Can she coax him out of his shell?
What I loved about this is how the book is defined by the three separate stories and really allows you to get immersed into them, as there is no diversion until the story has reached its conclusion and it moves onto the next one. At the beginning of each story, there is a small map of where they travel in Paris which I thought was a lovely addition, although I have to be honest and say that I didn't follow it! Josie's heart-breaking story is up first, and Sussman covers this delicate issue with ease, balancing Josie's grief with wanting to be happy about her secret, yet feeling completely isolated and over-whelmed. Josie's story is revealed gradually, and although we wouldn't perhaps usually sympathise with her, I found myself feeling incredibly sorry for this lost woman, and thought Nico was the perfect character to empathise with her. Her tale, and what they get up to in Paris, brings the truth of their realities home to both of them, and I felt this story was the best in the book by far, it really touched me.
That isn't to say of course that the other two stories, with Jeremy and Riley aren't really good too, but I just felt Josie's was my personal favourite. I found Riley a little bit dislikeable if I am honest, and I couldn't sympathise with her feelings all too much. Philippe too wasn't a particularly nice character, and this comes across as the story between the pair develops further. Jeremy and Chantal have a nice story, with her showing him her city, and Jeremy consequently realising what is important in life. Sussman has the knack of writing about these sensitive issues with ease, and with real feeling too. No matter how you feel about these characters, you can't deny that you are moved by their stories, and what happens for each of them. The fact each of the students are far away from home, somewhat alone and lost is important, and this novel conveys all of those feelings and how it makes all the other problems seem much worse. The way the characters open up easily to strangers is also interesting, and made me think.
The setting of Paris for this book is fantastic, and Sussman must have personal experience of the city because she writes it so clearly and beautifully. I enjoyed reading about all of the places that these characters visited during their sessions with their tutors, each being important in their own way. French language is of course used in the book, and most of it is explained by the English speaking characters, but when it isn't, it's clear there is a reason for that too. Sussman really explores the Parisian setting and lifestyle beautifully in the book, and weaves the individual stories of the characters into this, allowing them to develop and make momentous decisions for their lives based on their own French Lessons. I found Sussman's writing style very easy to read too, and I ploughed through the book in no time at all. There's no big shocks or cliffhangers - it doesn't need them and works perfectly without them - it's just a well written, character driven novel of discovery, truth and love. It's a lovely story with powerful themes, and is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, a great summer read.
on 5 July 2012
I'm having a bit of a reading renaissance at the moment. I really love to read but found I hadn't the time but after discovering GoodReads earlier this year I've set myself the challenge of reading 24 books this year and instead of going on Twitter in every spare moment, I'm picking up books instead. My latest read was French Lessons by Ellen Sussman, which I was excited about reading as it doesn't come out here until 5th July and you know how I love to do things first!
Anyway, French Lessons begins with three French tutors in Paris, Nico, Phillippe and Chantal meeting at a pavement cafe before beginning their days' work. They all have their own issues, but as their day progresses we discover that their pupils, Josie, Riley and Jeremy, have problems of their own; Josie was supposed to be in Paris with someone, but she isn't. Riley is an American Ex-pat discovering that her new life isn't what she expected and Jeremy is following his actress wife but craving a quiet life. As each of the couples makes their way through a day in Paris, they begin to make sense of their troubles and have some very unexpected adventures in a vividly painted Paris and discover truths that they thought long-buried.
I really flew through this book as it was remarkably easy to read but this doesn't make it a frivolous read. The prose instantly involves the reader, and each character is written with an appropriate amount of intrigue which is eventually revealed at an easy pace. By using the three pupils in vignettes linked by the tutors, there is just enough detail to tell each of their stories, without them becoming dull, but each is completed in a satisfying way. It's just a very charming book with erotic and emotional elements that would be perfect as a holiday read.
on 31 October 2011
From the minute French Lessons by Ellen Sussman was released last month this has been at the top of my to-read pile and as soon as a copy came in at my local library I had to grab it. Once I arrived home I had to start reading this delectable novel, and I could not put it down. French Lessons is as inviting as the smell of fresh espresso and pain au chocolat wafting out of a French café in Paris. I delved into this novel and couldn't stop reading, feeling almost as if I was right there on the river Seine along with the characters.
French lessons takes a look at the lives of three American's exploring Paris with their respective French tutors. Along the way they will learn about not only language but also love and loss. The storyline is split into sections focusing on each character separately. First up is Josie with her tutor Nico, who desperately wants to heal her broken heart. Then there is Riley with her tutor Philippe, who feels lost and alone in her own city, and even more lonely with her husband. And last but not least Jeremy with his tutor Chantal, who is accompanying his wife while she is shooting a film, yet he struggles to feel connected with her. As the three American's take their respective journeys through the winding streets of Paris they succumb to passion, romance and may even find a hidden truths about themselves along the way.
I have always had a love affair with France and Paris in particular, being fascinated by its elegance, romance, and language. I have always wanted to be able to speak French, and lets be honest who hasn't? (If you tell me you haven't I will either think you are lying or don't know enough about France to want to! Well French Lessons brought all this back to me and much more. I am now desperate to return to Paris! I loved the descriptions of the landmarks, food and wine, and the city itself whitch are described in enticing detail. The novel is split into five sections, which I really liked as well, making it easy to read this novel savouring each story on their own. It is hard to choose which story I enjoyed the most, as each made me care about the characters in such a way, that I was wondering about what had happened to them all long after I had finished the novel . The character of Josie and her heartbreak will draw you in and have you feeling along with her through her entire story, while the character of Riley will have you laughing along with her charming wit and humour. And lets not forget Jeremy who you will grow to love too. Ellen Sussman deftly manages to change the tone and mood for each of these stories meaning there is no chance of you getting bored along the way.
French Lessons is a sexy and at times erotic novel, with an explicit sex scene around half way through the novel, which may not be to some readers tastes. If you are in any way offended by this, then maybe this is not the novel for you. Aside from this the only other thing I didn't like about the novel was there was no real closure with any of the characters. Even though there is an ending with the tutors, I was left wondering what had happened with Josie, Riley and Jeremey's lives. An epilogue for each was perhaps needed to really close out the story.
French Lessons is a luscious, charming, romantic novel, with sexual tension rife with every turn of the page. Ellen succeeds in bringing each of her characters to life with her joie de vivre, French Lessons should be savoured and is a real treat for any reader.
on 6 October 2012
French Lessons is set over the course of a single day, with a section for each tutor/student pairing. I wasn't sure how such a tiny time frame would work for an entire novel but it did and it had a surprising fast pace instead of being packed with simple, mundane activities.
With the separate sections and the fact that the students never meet, it felt a bit like three short stories, anchored together by the three tutors and the events of the day. Each pair end up watching the film shoot at the river, giving the three stories a universal feel. While the three students never meet, they are all in a smiliar prediciment, feeling lost in some way or another and struggling with love and their own personal circumstances.
My favourite character to read about was Riley. I really felt for her, stuck in a foreign city where she doesn't seem to fit in and she feels herself drifting away from her husband. She is lonely and trapped and can't seem to find a way out.
on 17 March 2013
Interesting book enjoyed reading it. Like all things French. Had an interesting story line. A good writer and one you never quite know how it is going to end.
on 13 July 2013
Well written, with each character having their own plot arc and finding out more about themselves or their relationships as a result of their French lessons.
I enjoyed the authentic ambience of Paris and the glimpses of locations that were new to me.
Although the genre was 'romance' and I don't usually read pure romance novels, I was intrigued enough after the sample to want to read more. It is well written and, as mentioned, the character development is good so it reads more like a character-led story than a romance.