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[474] French Lessons – Ellen Sussman

” Unlike most men he knows, Jeremy has always wanted love with his sex. When he knows someone in bed, he wants to know her out of bed. And when he loves her in bed, the rest should follow. ” (190)

Three Americans in Paris respectively explores Paris with a personal French tutor, learning about the language and culture as well as aspects of themselves they are not ready to confront with. All three tutors influence the lives of their students in unintended ways and they to terms with their demon at the end. The three tutors—Nico, Chantal, and Philippe are friends. Chantal is in love with the philandering Philippe, who is really in love with himself. As they meet with their students, who all come to Paris for different reasons, the tutors influence the lives of their students in unintended ways. The students become vulnerable with them about the truths about themselves.

She looks around the café. The place is crowded though it’s mid-morning. Is Vic the only one who goes to work in the city? Everyone else seems to sit in cafés all day, drinking endless espresso until they start drinking wine. They’re immaculately dressed, as if eventually they’ll either go to the office or a movie premiere. (114)

Josie Felton is a high school French teacher who comes to Paris in hopes of healing a broken heart. Walloped in inconsolable grief to which she has no right, she is mourning the death of her lover, the father of a student. In sensitive Nico she not only finds the ears to her secrets and her sadness, but also a bearing. She has lost herself in giving herself up to love. Riley is the wife of an expatriate who has misplaced love, as her husband becomes lost in the long hours of work. She struggles to feel connected to him and finds the household a burden. Jeremy accompanies his wife to Paris for a movie shoot. A homebody who finds comfort in his house projects and books and fire, he has been feeling burdened by his wife’s high-profile, noisy life.

So. This is sex.
Every other sex she has experienced in her life had something to do with love, or the search for love, or the end of love. This is just sex. (128)

Sussman has nailed Paris down, complete with handy maps of the itineraries of the tutor-student pairs. Their individual sojourns converge at Pont des Arts, where Jeremy’s wife is filming a scene.

Obviously French Lessons doesn’t live up to my expectation, other than that it’s setting in one of my favorite cities. I was hoping for one tightly woven story with more well-developed characters rather than three loosely spun novellas forcefully tied up in the bundle at the end. Sussman raises such provocative themes about love, sex, fidelity, but almost all the vignettes of this book are about gratuitous, descriptive sex scenes, which reduce the merit of the book in my estimation. Can these sexually charged scenes be left to imagination? I appreciate the humorous touch she infuses in the discussion of heavy issues like infidelity and unrequited love, but the sex scenes are really meant for audience not defined by my profile. That said, one thought does arouse in me and linger when I turned the last page: Does morality and/or ethics ever play a role in our decisions? Are promises to be kept?

242 pp. Ballantine Books Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

3 Responses

  1. I was worried this book would be this way. Sorry it didn’t work out for you.

    • Hehehe…I was feeling that as well but decided to go ahead with it because it was Paris. So I can’t complain too much about its being chick-litish. She has a good humorous touch to the book and does pose thoughtful question about fidelity and love. The story just doesn’t do for me.

  2. […] French Lessons by Ellen Sussman. I love Paris and everything about Paris. But this book doesn’t live up to my expectation, other than that it’s setting in one of my favorite cities. I was hoping for one tightly woven story with more well-developed characters rather than three loosely spun novellas forcefully tied up in the bundle at the end. Sussman raises such provocative themes about love, sex, fidelity, but almost all the vignettes of this book are about gratuitous, descriptive sex scenes, which reduce the merit of the book in my estimation. […]

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