Learning Lessons in French


"Secrets travel fast in Paris." – Napoleon Bonaparte

Imagine this:  You’re a young artist who just graduated from Yale and who’s managed to
snag a dream job as an assistant to a brilliant American photographer in Paris.  But then imagine this:  Your boss and her family (with whom you will live and work) turn out to be a little bit crazy, a little bit self-absorbed and intent on dragging you into their chaos.  And each one is very manipulative in his or her own way.

This is where Kate finds herself in Hilary Reyl’s Lessons in French.  She’s in Paris to boost her resume before applying to art school, but she also wants desperately to fit in with the Schell family:  Lydia, the gifted photographer, who is working on a project about the Berlin Wall (the story takes place in 1989); Clarence, Lydia’s writer husband; Portia, their spoiled and confused daughter; and Joshua, their rebellious and also confused son.  

Kate is fluent in French, having been sent to France for a couple years when she was a child and her father was dying of cancer in the U.S.  However, at the beginning of the novel, she is more concerned with impressing the Schells than connecting with her own relatives.  As time goes on, she realizes what is really important, but it is fun watching her figure things out.  She cavorts with another former Yale student and her band of rich French boys; she is tricked into being the go-between for Clarence and his girlfriend, while hiding the affair from Lydia; and finally she connects with her cousin, Étienne, and realizes that she can always count on her own family, even when the Schells are at their worst. 

If you’re dreaming of France, but won’t travel farther than Los Angeles this summer, Lessons in French will not disappoint. 

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