French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

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French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Three Americans walk the streets of Paris with their French tutors, and get an education in more than just the language.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Canvas
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780333847

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There are six main characters in this book which is really three stories in one. Nico, Philippe and Chantal know each other, and Nico knows Josie, and Philippe knows Riley, and Chantal knows Jeremy, but Josie and Riley and Jeremy don’t know each other or anyone else. The first three are French tutors who have private lessons with their foreign students on the streets of Paris, using the city as a better backdrop for learning than a stuffy classroom. This week they each have Americans engaging their services, and over the course of one day the lives of students and teachers all change in ways they never expected.

Except for the short introduction and brief conclusion, this is three very distinct stories, one after another. Josie is a French teacher from the States looking to brush up her skills, but this trip to Paris is not at all how she planned it. She is alone, not with her lover, and even the dashing young Frenchman who is escorting her around the city can’t cheer her up. Riley is an expat who has moved over with her husband. She has two adorable children and a life many back home would envy, but she’s unhappy and frustrated and liable to doing things she knows she shouldn’t. Jeremy has also come to Paris with his spouse, but she is a glamorous Hollywood star and he feels somewhat in her shadow. To entertain him she buys him his own tutor, but she might not have been so keen if she knew how gorgeous young Chantal would turn out to be.

Though set over one day, each of the three segments drift back and forth into the past, filling us in on the students’ histories and giving us a more rounded picture of who they are and what brought them here. We learn very little about the tutors, only what we are told from their interactions with the students and each other on this one day, but they are still important for the story. All are impossibly beautiful, and the sexual tension with each pairing bubbles under the surface from the first page. My Spanish students always told me there were three ways to learn a language, en classe, en calle y en cama, so in the classroom, in the street, and in the bedroom, and as far as Josie, Riley and Jeremy are concerned, choosing just one of those options might not be education enough.

I said there were six leads in the story, but really there’s one more, the city itself. As a visitor I found Paris rather underwhelming, but this book has made me curious about it once more as it’s described in a beautiful and appealing (if a little American) way. I don’t think the book would have worked quite so well had it been set in London or Manchester, and not just because English tutors might not be brimming with quite so much, let’s call it, joie de vivre.

Though an English language original, the author being American, at times the style seems almost like a translation, remote, detached. It’s an interesting book and I quite expected the three ‘teams’ to collide later on in the day so found keeping them separate an odd but intriguing move. While the back stories were at times quite unexpected, I found the activities of the day predictable in many ways which was disappointing, as was the odd way in which all the characters were ultimately quite similar in their actions, and lacking in depth. In the end, while I read all the book, I wasn’t hooked or enthralled, and looking back I think I liked the idea more than the execution.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

In search of a little more Ooh la la? The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham should fit the bill.

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Buy French Lessons by Ellen Sussman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy French Lessons by Ellen Sussman at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy French Lessons by Ellen Sussman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy French Lessons by Ellen Sussman at


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