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Book: Le Divorce

January 30, 2010
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Finally a review! I actually finished this a couple of weeks ago on my Oregon trip, but wanted to wait to review it until after my book club (as it was our January book pick).

The consensus: enjoyable, but mixed reactions to various parts.
The plot is this: a young woman (Isabelle, aimless, unsure what to do with her life) from California goes to Paris to help her stepsister, who is married to a Frenchie, prepare for her second child. She is to help with their toddler, do various odd jobs, etc. She later finds out that actually her sister is supposed to be helping Isabelle find a direction in her life, under the ruse of needing her help with the baby. There are many bait-and-switch moments like this in the book. Anyway, so Isabelle is an American in Paris, and quickly becomes swept into the family drama unfolding. Roxy’s (the sister) husband has left her for another woman, and drama ensues.

Among the various dramas: Isabelle’s affair with a powerful, sexy much-older man; a pottery-theft operation; various other affairs by various other members of the French branch of the family; a divorce proceeding which turns ugly over a valuable painting; a missing cat; a kidnapping; a murder; a birth and a death. And lots of other stuff.

And also: French-American relations commentary; Bosnian war opinions; domestic details, funny manners misunderstandings; EuroDisney and of course amazing French food.

There’s a lot in this book.

And that’s where the discussion got interesting. Some people enjoyed all the various plotlines and commentaries. Others (the majority) felt that many of them were extraneous and could have easily been left out. And then we had to discuss what point was being made by including so many plotlines, especially when mixed with beautiful prose and so many scenic, leisurely American-in-Paris scenes. Was it a slice-of-life? Or an overly-ambitious author?

I enjoyed the book but felt it was a little busy. There was a big dramatic event near the end which I felt could have been left out entirely. Although I didn’t really find anyone particularly sympathetic (Roxy was too hysterical, and Isabelle very self-contained), I especially enjoyed Isabelle’s affair with the older man. Isabelle gains a doorway into a higher cultural experience through this affair, and learns a lot about what sort of person she is and what sort of paths might become available to her. I don’t have a problem with May-December romances in general, and could totally see how an adventurous young woman might stand to gain a lot (and enjoy a lot) by entering into this arrangement, especially if it’s not forever, you know? It’s a classic: she benefits from his attentions, his wealth, his connections. He benefits from her youth, her beauty, her freshness. They both have a good time. It’s Paris! Why not?

This was definitely a fun, good read, although somewhat more complicated than it needed to be. It’s a few steps above typical chick-lit, which I generally can’t stand, but not too heavy. Had some nice language (some book club members felt the vocabulary was larger/fancier than warranted, but I appreciated an intelligently-written book), and certainly any sort of cultural-commentary book about Paris is fun to read. Once character is constantly trying to “crack the code” of Parisian women: how do they do that thing with their hair? What’s with the scarves? What kind of perfume is the correct perfume? Why all the fancy lingerie? All the mysteries of Parisian femininity. I enjoyed those parts and wanted more.

So, overall, pretty interesting with lots of fascinating details about Parisian domestic life. With a bunch of other plotlines thrown in.

It’s funny, I finished this in the airport and so had to buy another book. The book selection was TERRIBLE so I bought The Bourne Identity, which I’ve sort of wanted to read for awhile but my library acutally DOES NOT HAVE (how can they not have this?!), so I felt okay about buying it. It’s also set in Paris, and is kind of incredibly long (well over 500 pages, but I will finish it tonight), but of course is a very different book from Le Divorce. Still, they have some similarities. While The Bourne Identity is what I would call a “man-book” (and of course there are also “man-movies”), it’s somewhat better than what I typically think of as a man-book/thriller. Le Divorce could possibly be labeled as “chick-lit”, but it was definitely a step or two above typical beach fluff. It’s enriched fluff. Kind of like whole-grain Wonder bread.

I think I would like to watch the movie, although the sisters in the book have dark hair and in the movie, they are both blondies. Still, I’d like to see it.

Next up: Finishing Bourne, then finishing Tales of the City, and then perhaps The Song Is You or Ghost In Love or Never Let Me Go (next month’s book club pick, chosen by me). So many good books in the pile. Such a good feeling.

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