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Lessons in French

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Lessons in French Cover

ISBN13: 9781451655032
ISBN10: 1451655037
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

It's 1989, the Berlin Wall is coming down, and Kate has just graduated from Yale, eager to pursue her dreams as a fledgling painter. When she receives a job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she immediately accepts. It's a chance not only to be at the center of it all, but also to return to France for the first time since she was a lonely nine-year-old girl, sent to the outskirts of Paris to live with cousins while her father was dying.

Kate may speak fluent French, but she arrives at the Schell household in the fashionable Sixth Arrondissement both dazzled and wildly impressionable. She finds herself surrounded by a seductive cast of characters, including the bright, pretentious Schells, with whom she boards, and their assortment of famous friends; Kate's own flamboyant cousin; a fellow Yalie who seems to have it all figured out; and a bande of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. As Kate rediscovers Paris and her roots there, while trying to fit into Lydia's glamorous and complicated family, she begins to question the kindness of the people to whom she is so drawn as well as her own motives for wanting them to love her.

In compelling and sympathetic prose, Hilary Reyl perfectly captures this portrait of a precocious, ambitious young woman struggling to define herself in a vibrant world that spirals out of her control. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family.

Review:

“Paris is an irresistible backdrop and a proving ground in Hilary Reyl’s emotionally wise first novel. As Kate struggles to find who she truly is amid the ever-brewing storms in Schell household, her lessons are hard-won and often risky — and yet we believe and fully root for her from page one. An affecting and intelligently drawn debut.” Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

Review:

“Hilary Reyl has crafted the ultimate sophisticated coming-of-age-story. Not since Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce have Americans in Paris seemed so compelling. Lessons in French is not only an impossibly romantic and sensual delight, but its characters — witty and surprisingly poignant — stayed with me long after I savored the final page.” Joanna Hershon, author of Swimming and The German Bride

Review:

“With its complicated love story, rich cast of accomplished and eccentric characters, and vivid evocation of late 1980’s Paris, Lessons in French is a delight from the first page. I got so caught up in the story, I almost believed I was young, living in a Parisian garret, and fluent in French.” Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others

Review:

"French literature scholar Reyl's first novel is rich and magnetic, a snapshot of one young woman's life in a city at once ancient and bubbling over with life." Booklist

Review:

"A bittersweet tale of personal growth and a paean (well deserved!) to Paris. Having lived there, Reyl should light up the City of Light." Library Journal

Review:

"Any ambitious young woman who has ever been out of her depth in a new job, new city or new romance will recognize a bit of herself in Ms. Reyl's heroine." Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

Synopsis:

A sophisticated and page-turning debut novel about a young American woman’s coming-of-age in Paris.

It’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to come down, and Kate has just graduated from Yale. She is anxious to make her mark, yet has no idea how to pursue life as a fledging painter. So when she receives a surprising job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she immediately accepts. It’s a chance not only to be at the center of it all, but also to return to the city for the first time since she was a lonely nine-year-old girl sent to live with cousins while her father was dying of cancer.

Kate’s accent may be perfect, but she arrives at the Schell household in the fashionable Sixth Arrondissement both dazzled and wildly impressionable. She finds herself surrounded by a cast of characters, including the bright, pretentious Schells, Kate’s flamboyant cousin, a fellow Yalie who seems to have it all figured out, and a band of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. And as she tries to fit into Lydia’s glamorous and complicated family, Kate forgets that she has one of her own.

Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman defining herself, and finding her moral compass, in the tall shadow of a powerful boss.

About the Author

Hilary Reyl has a Ph.D. in French literature from NYU with a focus on the nineteenth century and has spent several years working and studying in France. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.

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Lynne McKelvey, July 4, 2013 (view all comments by Lynne McKelvey)
Decoding the Rules

Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl

Lessons in French transcends the bounds of the usual--or even the exceptional-- tale of an American heroine's coming of age in Paris. Yes, girl meets boy and falls in love. Yes, the food and wine descriptions will make anyone with taste buds salivate. And yes, the iconic sights--the art, architecture, gardens and parks of the City of Light--particularly those of the historically resonant Sixth Arrondissement where most of the novel takes place --are beautifully rendered.

But for this reader, the particular pleasure of Lessons in French is its author's astute, often wicked-funny social commentary. Reyl presents an indelible portrait of the manners and mores of a particular place at a particular time: Paris at the tag end of the 1980s.

As her heroine, Kate--a recent Yale graduate who speaks perfect French--tries on other people's lives before discovering her own, she attempts to decipher the rules governing the complex social perspectives of the intellectual celebrities--would-be and actual--who frequent the household where she is employed; the aristocratic playboys--BCBG (bon chic, bon genre)-- who seem to live for oysters and champagne; the social outcasts, such as Kate's gay cousin Etienne; and his decent, conventional parents, who have scrimped all their lives on the outskirts of Paris to save up for a humdrum retirement in Orleans.

But Reyl reserves her most pungent satire for Lydia Schell, Kate's narcissistic, manipulative, and utterly unforgettable employer, an American photojournalist with houses in Paris and Manhattan, and for Lydia's hapless British husband, Clarence. As Kate listens to their savage repartee and begins to decode their complicated marriage, readers will be reminded of Albee and Proust.

Yet for all its bite, Reyl's ridicule never merely attacks its targets. Selfish and limited as the BCBG playboys seem, one of them weeps when his parents' divorce. Even the warring Schells never quite lose their humanity. Although their marriage seems likely to continue as a blood sport, Clarence and Lydia will remain forever joined, if only by a shared despair.

Reyl's lively heroine comes to Paris in search of "experience." Like Kate, readers of this stunning debut novel will not only find themselves whisked away to a fabled city, but they will also attain a rare understanding of the subtle social codes governing the inhabitants' behavior.

















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Laurie Blum, April 24, 2013 (view all comments by Laurie Blum)
When I read the line "It's the best city to wander around alone because it's so beautiful you feel like it's hugging you" I already knew I was going to enjoy Hilary Reyl's "Lessons in French." Through the eyes & ears of main character, Katie, an American, the author brought Paris to life for MOI, the reader ... the vivid descriptions & sparkling witty dialogue took me on a virtual romp through the City of Lights. We are treated to some 1989 world history as the Berlin Wall is tumbling, reminders of the 'fatwa' on Salman Rushdie & beyond. The complicated Schell residence where Katie lives is 'dysfunction on steroids' with its colorful characters!! Don't miss this novel ... savoir vivre!!
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Michelle A Shannon, March 10, 2013 (view all comments by Michelle A Shannon)
Kate has the opportunity of a lifetime in her role as the assistant to a famous photographer. Not only will she be living with the Schell family, meeting their famous circle of friends, but she will have the opportunity to work on improving her art in a city that caters to untried artists around the globe. Hilary Reyl’s debut novel, Lessons in French, follows Kate as she adjusts to her new surroundings, meeting new friends, connecting with old ones, and discovering love and life in the quintessential city for doing just that.

Kate is meant to be sympathetic - a young woman with parental issues looking to find herself in Paris. However, she comes across as particularly naïve, weak, and easily manipulated. Her deep-seated need to please everyone quickly evolves from endearing to annoying. Similarly, her inability to heed the advice of her friends is maddening. Someone with the strength and mental fortitude it takes to move to a different country and start a new live-in job with strangers should have more of a backbone than the one not exhibited by Kate. It is almost as if she feels it necessary to punish herself for some unknown, long-ago indiscretion, but the punishment lasts too long and does not fit whatever crime she believes she committed. The end result is a character whose mental turmoil irritates rather than creates sympathy, which is not necessarily optimal for a coming-of-age story.

Living in Paris, or at least abroad, is a dream most people will never realize. The history, the architecture, the atmosphere - they all help Paris feel like the ideal locale to find oneself and learn about life. Yet, Ms. Reyl’s version of Paris is one that diminishes the mystique of this beloved city. The charming elements of the city have been tainted by the milieu into which Kate has been thrust. The Schells are horrible snobs, looking down on anyone who does not hold their same ideals and perfectly awful towards those who are no longer in their favor. Their liberal airs border on the maniacal, while their esoteric jokes about such things as Deconstructionism and sycophancy in journalism feel overdone and false. A reader is left wondering if people actually talk like the Schells and cannot help but feel disappointed that their influence diminishes the quirky aspects of the city.

Even worse, the Schells are mere caricatures of the artists and upper class that flocked to Paris during the Gilded Age, clueless about the true issues of the day but convinced that they are making a difference and establishing a legacy. They live in their own sheltered world but feel that their work captures what life is like for those not in their social sphere. One could almost feel sympathy for Portia and Joshua, if one did not understand that they are active participants in their own misery, thoroughly enjoying being caught up in their parents’ drama. It is no little amount of irony that Joshua is the most sensible in his family but considered the most problematic family member. Their treatment of Kate is similarly clichéd, with Lydia filling in the role of the tyrannical boss a la The Devil Wears Prada, Clarence the well-meaning buffer who also exploits the help for his own gains, Portia’s own demands of Kate as her personal maid, and Joshua’s lack of demands. Readers automatically know the struggles Kate will face and the lessons she is going to learn, leaving very little in the way of surprise.

Speaking of lessons learned, it is astonishing at just how little Kate does learn about herself and about others. While she understands that she is being manipulated by the entire Schell family, she never truly learns to stand up for herself. She lets others make decisions for her, and only until events unfold will she make a resolution and take a stand. Even her choice to leave Paris is not necessarily hers but rather forced upon her based on previous events. Kate is a bit too passive for such a novel.

Ms. Reyl, for all her efforts, fails to break new ground or create a lasting character in her debut novel. Even though there have been many coming-of-age stories over the centuries, many have been done memorably well. Lessons in French is not one of them, as there is an overt lack of originality to the plot and to the characters that prevents it from standing apart from other similar stories. In addition, Kate’s distinct lack of boldness defeats the purpose of the entire story, as the main character in a coming-of-age novel should actually learn something about herself rather than follow in others’ wakes. Even the Parisian backdrop is lacking, as the focus of Kate’s Paris experiences revolves more around food and less about the other elements of the city. In other words, Lessons in French is a major disappointment.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781451655032
Author:
Reyl, Hilary
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
20130331
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8.38 x 5.5 in

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Coming of Age
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Debut Fiction

Lessons in French Used Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9781451655032 Reviews:
"Review" by , “Paris is an irresistible backdrop and a proving ground in Hilary Reyl’s emotionally wise first novel. As Kate struggles to find who she truly is amid the ever-brewing storms in Schell household, her lessons are hard-won and often risky — and yet we believe and fully root for her from page one. An affecting and intelligently drawn debut.”
"Review" by , “Hilary Reyl has crafted the ultimate sophisticated coming-of-age-story. Not since Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce have Americans in Paris seemed so compelling. Lessons in French is not only an impossibly romantic and sensual delight, but its characters — witty and surprisingly poignant — stayed with me long after I savored the final page.”
"Review" by , “With its complicated love story, rich cast of accomplished and eccentric characters, and vivid evocation of late 1980’s Paris, Lessons in French is a delight from the first page. I got so caught up in the story, I almost believed I was young, living in a Parisian garret, and fluent in French.”
"Review" by , "French literature scholar Reyl's first novel is rich and magnetic, a snapshot of one young woman's life in a city at once ancient and bubbling over with life."
"Review" by , "A bittersweet tale of personal growth and a paean (well deserved!) to Paris. Having lived there, Reyl should light up the City of Light."
"Review" by , "Any ambitious young woman who has ever been out of her depth in a new job, new city or new romance will recognize a bit of herself in Ms. Reyl's heroine."
"Synopsis" by , A sophisticated and page-turning debut novel about a young American woman’s coming-of-age in Paris.

It’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to come down, and Kate has just graduated from Yale. She is anxious to make her mark, yet has no idea how to pursue life as a fledging painter. So when she receives a surprising job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she immediately accepts. It’s a chance not only to be at the center of it all, but also to return to the city for the first time since she was a lonely nine-year-old girl sent to live with cousins while her father was dying of cancer.

Kate’s accent may be perfect, but she arrives at the Schell household in the fashionable Sixth Arrondissement both dazzled and wildly impressionable. She finds herself surrounded by a cast of characters, including the bright, pretentious Schells, Kate’s flamboyant cousin, a fellow Yalie who seems to have it all figured out, and a band of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. And as she tries to fit into Lydia’s glamorous and complicated family, Kate forgets that she has one of her own.

Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman defining herself, and finding her moral compass, in the tall shadow of a powerful boss.

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