Lessons in French: Book summary and reviews of Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl

Lessons in French

A Novel

by Hilary Reyl

Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2014
    368 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

An evocative, coming-of-age story about a Yale graduate's year in Paris as an assistant to a legendary American photographer: "An appealing debut novel" (Oprah.com, Editor's Pick).

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 is offered a job 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 the art world, but to return to France for the first time since, as a lonely nine-year-old girl, she was 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 overwhelmed and naïve. She finds herself surrounded by a seductive cast of characters: the members of the bright, pretentious family with whom she boards, 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, she begins to question the kindness of the glamorous people to whom she is so drawn as well as her own motives in wanting their affection.

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.

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Some of the recent comments posted about Lessons in French:

Ask the Author
Madame Fidelio is indeed an enigmatic character. I chose to have give her a lot of understanding without developing her fully because she is in many ways my stand-in for the reader. She sees everything unfold from her privileged, unique point of ... - francinee

Clarence
I'm not so sure that Lydia cared about his having an affair. - LeahLovesBooks

Did the city of Paris come alive for you in the novel? Was the sense of place an important aspect for you in your reading?
Yes, it did and I enjoyed this aspect of this book so much. I have never traveled to France, it is on my bucket list. - Dirtyolegardenhoe

Did you anticipate Etienne's AIDS diagnosis? Is a sense of invisible crisis a feeling you associate with this period?
Once I found out that he was gay, I thought that perhaps he had AIDS as it seems that he was sickly. - LindaB.

Discuss the roll of family in Lessons in French
The family provided the Lessons in French throughout the book. Sadly, all of the families were dysfunctional from Kate and her mother, the Schells, Olivier, Eteinne and his parents, and Kate and her aunt and uncle. In some ways, Clarence and ... - shirleyf

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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

"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

"Rich and magnetic, a snapshot of one young woman's life in a city at once ancient and bubbling over with life." - Booklist

"An appealing debut novel...it's the portrait of Paris that entrances, from the cafe and chestnut croissants to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mix in a handsome love interest or two, and you've got a novel you can finish in the length of a plane ride." – Oprah.com, Editor's Pick

"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

"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

"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

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Reader Reviews

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Julianna

A treat for Francophiles
The story is a lively romp through Paris. Beautifully written the author takes us not only to Paris but into the lives of Parisian artists and the working class that are there for their convenience. An interesting glimpse into the worlds of the privileged and not so privileged. Thought provoking.

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Author Information

Hilary Reyl Author Biography

Photo: David Jacobs

Hilary Reyl has a PhD 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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