Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

French Lessons

French Lessons

3.2 48
by Ellen Sussman

See All Formats & Editions

A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.

Josie, Riley, and Jeremy have come to the City of Light for different reasons: Josie, a young high school teacher, arrives in hopes of healing a broken


A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.

Josie, Riley, and Jeremy have come to the City of Light for different reasons: Josie, a young high school teacher, arrives in hopes of healing a broken heart. Riley, a spirited but lonely expat housewife, struggles to feel connected to her husband and her new country. And Jeremy, the reserved husband of a renowned actress, is accompanying his wife on a film shoot, yet he feels distant from her world.

As they meet with their tutors—Josie with Nico, a sensitive poet; Riley with Phillippe, a shameless flirt; and Jeremy with the consummately beautiful Chantal—each succumbs to unexpected passion and unpredictable adventures. Yet as they traverse Paris’s grand boulevards and intimate, winding streets, they uncover surprising secrets about one another—and come to understand long-buried truths about themselves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Three Americans explore Paris alongside their attractive French tutors and find themselves caught up in a delightful day of desire in Sussman's second novel (after On a Night Like This), beginning with an emotionally fraught coffee date shared by the tutors that reveals a love-triangle that must be set aside for the workday. Nico, who has just slept with his fellow tutor, Chantal, is assigned to a pregnant, grieving San Franciscan woman; Philippe continues his lessons with a lonely ex-pat with no French skills, two children, and a workaholic husband; and Chantal, in love with Philippe, has her last session with the insecure husband of an actress in town for a shoot. They visit gardens, the Louvre, and several beds. Granted, it's not exactly trailblazing material, but Sussman keeps things fresh with a strong supporting cast and some unexpected insights into the characters' pasts, embracing a soupçon of mystery to go with the scenic strolls and flights of passion. (July)
From the Publisher
“[A] luscious novel of love and longing . . . the narrative feelslight as a glass of rosé at an outdoor café, but its insightscarry the richness of a Burgundy.” —People  (four stars)
“[A] sexy travelogue . . . sizzling escapist reading.”—Entertainment Weekly

“As inviting as the smell of freshly baked croissants wafting from a Parisian café, this is a novel to savor.”—Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

“Touching, thoughtful, hilarious, and exquisite in its observations, French Lessons—Ellen Sussman’s day in Paris with a wonderful collection of characters—is a treat. . . . Très charmant!”—Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Four Ms. Bradwells

“Charming, romantic, and brimming with Sussman’s trademark joie de vivre, French Lessons is a novel to savor.”—Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Close Your Eyes

"What a delicious read! With sexual tension that crackles on the page, I truly couldn't put down this literary page-turner. Book clubs: bust out your calendars. This novel's going on your list."  —Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief
"Elegant and evocative...Sussman has created wonderful characters who take us through the city as they discover hidden places, including those in their own hearts."  —Luanne Rice
"In French Lessons, Ellen Sussman has created an erotic, emotionally charged novel spanning two continents.  The intriguing cast of characters, whose lives are intertwined by a common love for the world's most beautiful language, make delicious reading from the first page to the last."  — Michelle Richmond

“[An] evocative escape to the City of Love.” —Kirkus
“Three Americans explore Paris alongside their attractive French tutors and find themselves caught up in a delightful day of desire in Sussman's second novel… Sussman keeps things fresh with a strong supporting cast and some unexpected insights into the characters' pasts, embracing a soupçon of mystery to go with the scenic strolls and flights of passion.” – Publishers Weekly

"My favorite novels succeed in delivering life's best pleasures: making a new friend (the unexpected delight in encountering a sensibility both sly and sweet), being handed a surprise vacation (the joy of an exotic and stunning landscape), and, most exciting of all, finding oneself in the thrall of an intoxicating flirtation.  French Lessons is just such a book."  — Antonya Nelson

Kirkus Reviews

Three attractive French tutors guide each of their American charges through an unforgettable day in Paris.

Meeting regularly at a café before work, colleagues Chantal, Philippe and Nico teach private language sessions and have what might be described as a complex (or just French) relationship. Chantal has slept with both men, although she considers Philippe—in spite of all evidence to the contrary—to be her boyfriend. She also finds herself drawn to her client Jeremy, the carpenter husband of famous movie star Dana Hurley, who is shooting a film in town. On their last day together, the two of them wander the streets, get stuck in a rainstorm and share an easy camaraderie that gives them both pause. Jeremy is happily married, but Chantal's low-key allure offers him a seductive glimpse of a life away from Dana's fame. Pining for Chantal, Nico is assigned Josie Felton, a pretty young teacher from San Francisco. Still reeling from the sudden death of her much older (and married) lover, Josie cannot help but be delighted with the puppy-like Nico, who takes her shopping, flirts up a storm and tries to convince her to run away with him to Provence. But is it too soon? Sexy wannabe musician Philippe, meanwhile, meets up with the voluptuous Riley, a lonely expatriate mom whose animosity toward Paris is rivaled only by her disdain for her husband Vic. Lacking the confidence or ability to actually learn the language, Riley nonetheless makes a bold overture to Philippe, who responds with an enthusiasm that makes her rethink that whole hating-Paris thing. In spite of some overly familiar scenarios (Chantal's flower-festooned houseboat picnic, Philippe's hot bedroom antics), Sussman's (On a Night Like This, 2004, etc.) breezy entry into the holiday-romance genre has a lot going for it and benefits greatly by giving the locals their point-of-view, too.

Pleasantly evocative escape to the City of Love.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Brilliant sunlight spills through the windows of the Vivre a la Française language school. It has been raining for days—for weeks—and the sudden flash of sun through a break in the clouds causes everyone in the dreary office to stop for a moment and turn their faces toward the light. It's early morning and no one is quite awake—one young woman murmurs, "Bonjour, soleil." Nico smiles. Then the door slams and everyone stirs, suddenly alert. Nico blinks and looks around, hoping for a sign of what he already knows: Something's different. It's not just the sun. It's the day, new and promising. Every corner of the office looks sun-washed and bright. Even the ghostly girl behind the desk offers Nico a half smile when she hands him his daily work sheet.

Sure enough, today's teaching assignment promises something new—Josie Felton. He likes the name. It's so very American, and he imagines a blond, ponytailed girl, ready to conquer Paris. His Paris. He'll show her the way. He tucks the computer printout with her name and the details of their lesson—meeting time, duration, level of French, areas of concentration—into his back pocket.

It's time to meet Chantal at the cafe.

Nico walks out of the language school onto rue de Paradis. Before he turns to the corner restaurant, he looks down the street in the other direction. Something has caught his attention—a gasp, the rustle of fabric, a bare arm. He squints in the sun and sees two people at the end of the street. A woman pushes a man up against the wall of the building. Her arms, bare and tattooed, a lightning flash zigzagging across tan flesh, pin the man's shoulders. She leans in for a kiss that takes a long time. Someone pushes through the door behind Nico and bumps into him.

"Sorry," he says and steps away.

Nico looks back. The woman saunters away. The man runs his hand through his hair and walks toward Nico. It's Philippe. Nico's first thought is of Chantal—did she see the kiss? He looks toward the cafe and Chantal is there, sitting at a table outside, reading a book. Nico takes a breath.

Philippe reaches him in a second and smacks his arm.

"I'm late, man," Philippe says in French. "Order me an espresso."

"Got it," Nico says.

Philippe heads into the language school and the door swings closed behind him.

Nico, Philippe, and Chantal have coffee together on Monday and Friday mornings after they get their assignments at the school. There are other French instructors—who teach regular classes rather than individual sessions, mostly older men and women who seem to have nothing in common with these three—though sometimes Nico wonders what he has in common with Philippe. Maybe they only really share one thing: an attraction to Chantal.

Nico hurries to the cafe. He can see the curve of Chantal's neck as she peers at her novel, her umbrella perched at her side, her cardigan neatly buttoned. He thinks of her in bed last week, after they made love, her hair fanned across the pillow, her body beaded with sweat, her features soft. A different person. He wants both of them.

He leans over and gives her a kiss on each cheek, then slides into the chair next to her. He smells her perfume, something that reminds him of the Mediterranean, and he has the odd sensation of stepping into the cool water of the sea. He looks around—the cafe is crowded and noisy—and every conversation seems too loud and hurried. A man shouts at the driver of a car who blasts his horn in response. Nico imagines a different cafe, somewhere in Provence. Let's drive to the sea, he would say.

He can feel the heat of the newly hatched sun on his back. Chantal tilts her head and looks at him as if she wants to read his thoughts. When they made love she pulled him onto her, so that all the space between them disappeared. Now he feels the need to touch her. First her mouth, where there is a hint of a smile. Her lips are full and he sees that she has worn lipstick. Does she always wear lipstick?

"Philippe is late," he says in French. "He'll be here soon."

"Of course," she says.

"Do you have your American again?" he asks.

"The last day," she tells Nico. "I'm a little sad about it."

"He's stolen your heart?"

She shakes her head. "He hasn't tried."

"And if he tried?"

"He's a happily married man," she says. "There aren't many of them. It's good to find one once in a while."

Nico imagines Chantal next to him in a convertible, like a young Catherine Deneuve, a scarf around her hair, the sea stretching along the coast, the road twisting through green hills, the air full of the smell of lavender.

The waiter appears. He's young, bored, and reeks of last night's booze. Nico wants to tell the kid to go home and take a shower. When he looks around the cafe, he realizes that most of the customers are younger than he is. He's thirty-two years old—when did he become an old guy? Nico orders a cafe creme and an espresso for Philippe. When the waiter leaves, Nico waves the stale air away.

"And you?" Chantal asks. "Who do you have today?"

"A woman. I don't know if she's young or old. Also American. High level of French."

"Lucky you."

"Apparently she's a high school French teacher. Why would a French teacher need a tutor for a day?"

"You'll find out soon enough."

Chantal tucks her hair behind her ears. She, too, looks older than the girls who flutter in their chairs, texting on cell phones, giggling with their friends. Nico hears the high-pitched voice of one girl—"Mais non, c'est pas possible!"—and the girl swats at a boy's face. The boy leans forward and brushes his thumb across the girl's lips. Nico pulls his eyes away. He looks at Chantal, who sips her espresso. She is twenty-eight. She is a woman compared to these girls. Again, he wants to touch her. He looks at her fingers resting on the table. She wears a simple silver ring, something that could be mistaken for a wedding band.

He reaches for her hand and pulls it closer to him. The band has something etched on it. Finally he sees that it's a vine, encircling her finger.

"I like that," he tells her.

"It's a broken promise," she says.

He waits for her to explain, feeling the heat of her hand in his.

"Philippe gave it to me," she tells him, and her hand drifts away.

Nico looks across the street. Still no sign of Philippe.

"I have news," he says. He wants to tell her before Philippe comes. He leans forward, ready to share his secret. He has told no one. "I sold my poetry collection yesterday!"

"Bravo!" Chantal says, her eyes wide. "And I didn't even know you were a poet!"

"I don't tell many people." In fact, he has only confessed his creative aspirations to his parents, who complained that he should give it up and devote himself to a real career. And so he didn't share the news with them last night. Besides, he's not sure how they'll react to the poems when they finally read them.

"What do you write about?" Chantal asks. Her face lights up—this is the Chantal he fell for weeks ago, the woman who listened to him tell a long story about his first girlfriend in Normandy and who asked him, with so much kindness, "Will you always love her best?" "No," he had told her, "I hope not." He did not say: Maybe I will love you best.

"It's a series of poems that are all about the same story. A boy is kidnapped from his home. He's gone for twenty-four hours. Each poem is a different version of what happens to him in those twenty-four hours."

"Who was kidnapped?" Philippe asks, dropping into a seat at their small, round table. He sets his messenger bag on the ground beside his chair.

Nico feels a tightening of his chest—he has lost the chance to tell her more.

"Were you kidnapped?" Chantal asks.

"It's just something I wrote," Nico says. Another time, he'll show Chantal the poems. He'll tell her the story of his day in the root cellar. In a quick moment, he feels the terror that he has lived with for so long. He's a child standing on the top of a tower of wooden wine boxes. The air smells of earth and potatoes and wine. He peers through the gap in the top of the hatch and can see the legs of policemen, dozens of policemen, their black boots stomping through wet mud. Even now, years later, he's not sure whether he's more scared that they'll find him or never find him.

He hasn't told anyone about that day. Now he's written thirty poems, inventing and reinventing that single experience of his childhood. Last night on the phone the editor told him, "This book will be a gift to us all. The rest of us have our childhood experiences. You have your childhood experience and your bounteous imagination. Every day can be re-created countless times. In the end, we don't know what's true. And yet it's all true, isn't it? It's a lifetime of possibility in one day."

Nico didn't know how to answer her. Now he wonders, will this book set him free? The experience itself matters so little after all these years. But the secret has become enormous, foul, rotting. Now he has swept up the mess of it and created poems. Could she really have called the poems lovely? Breathtaking? Nico wants to tell Chantal all of this.

"Is it like a mystery? A thriller?" Philippe asks.

"Who'd you get today?" Nico asks Philippe. Philippe lights up a cigarette.

"Bof," Philippe says. "No one. I've got my regular at eleven. No one else. Clavere is trying to fuck with me. He wants me out and he won't fire me. So he keeps telling me that he doesn't have students for me. I am so fucking done with this school." Philippe blows out a stream of smoke. His cheekbones hollow and his face changes—for a moment, he looks haunted. Then he smiles and again he looks handsome and self-possessed. Nico imagines that he comes from money, despite his cheap shirt and ripped jeans.

"You going to get another job?" Nico asks.

"I'm going to focus on my music. I've got better things to do than babysit some American girl who can't conjugate the verb etre."

"The one with the tits," Chantal tells Nico.

"Ah-hah," Nico says. Philippe has told them that if it weren't for the woman's breasts, he would not be able to stand his two-hour sessions with her.

Nico looks at Philippe and Chantal across the small table and notices something different: Chantal has edged her chair slightly away from Philippe. She will not look at Philippe. Did she see the kiss? he wonders.

Philippe and Chantal are lovers; Nico knows that. And yet he can't quite believe it, now that he's spent some time with them. They're shadow and sunlight. What would draw Chantal to the dark corners of Philippe's life? But then he remembers the first time he saw them together at a meeting at the school. They stood against the wall in the back of the classroom. Philippe wrapped his arms around Chantal and she leaned back into him. They both looked dreamy and slow, as if they had spent the day in bed together and had thrown on clothes at the last minute to make it to the meeting. As their boss droned on about the challenges of teaching the Japanese, Philippe whispered in Chantal's ear, and Chantal closed her eyes, snaked her arm around Philippe's back, and let her lips part as if ready to make a sound too intimate for such a public place. Nico remembers thinking: I want to know her.

Now they're both looking at him across the table, as if waiting for something.

"You got enough gigs to carry you?" Nico asks. He doesn't really know what Philippe does, music-wise.

"I auditioned a lead singer last night," Philippe says. "She rocked."

"And so you fucked her," Chantal says.

Nico has never heard Chantal curse. Finally, Chantal and Philippe glare at each other. Nico thinks: I shouldn't be here.

"I had a dream about you last night," Philippe says. "You were standing in the middle of the Champs-Elysees. Naked. A crowd of tourists were cheering and tossing coins at your feet."

"I slept with Nico last week," Chantal tells Philippe.

Nico looks at Philippe but says nothing. He hadn't imagined this. What had happened that night with Chantal was so personal, so private and contained, that he never thought about the possibility that she would tell Philippe.

"No problem, man. I don't blame you. She's hot. Look at her. You'd think that she's an uptight bitch. But she's really hot."

"Philippe," Chantal says. Her voice is mournful.

Nico remembers the surprise of Chantal's skin. He undressed her slowly that night while the boat rocked and the light of the summer moon filtered through the porthole. He had imagined a different terrain—white skin untouched by the sun, a long, thin body. But her skin was tanned and her body dipped and rose in lovely curves. She lay on her side and they faced each other. Though he waited for her to stop him, to change her mind and ask him to leave, she gave him permission with her watchful eyes, with her playful smile, with her silence. He ran his fingers along the rise and fall of her body, neck to shoulder to waist to hip to the long stretch of her glorious leg. The landscape of Chantal, he thought.

Revenge sex, he reminds himself. Chantal didn't need this morning's display on the street corner to confirm what she already knew.

"Tell us about your book, Nico," Chantal says.

He looks at her, surprised. She offers a strained smile. Has he lost her? Of course he lost her. He never had her.

"Not now," he says. "Tonight. I'll buy a bottle of champagne at La Foret."

Nico remembers the euphoria he felt after the phone call yesterday from the editor. I'll tell Chantal, he had thought immediately. And through the long, restless night, he had imagined her pleasure at his news. He imagined her gentle questions, her admiration, her new respect. He had guarded his poems with a fierce secrecy and now, instead of enjoying the expansive pride he expected, he feels an odd sense of loss. Did he think he'd win her with poetry? Had he foolishly thought he had already won her with a night of sex?

Meet the Author

Ellen Sussman is the author of the novel On a Night Like This. She lived in Paris for five years and now lives with her husband in Northern California.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

French Lessons 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me of the artsy foriegn movies that my sister likes to take me to. While I found it "interesting" it was a bit tough to engage with the characters. While there are some good lessons embedded in the story line, I thought some of the descriptions about the main tutor characters were too stereotypical. It would not be a book I'd recommend to anyone.
AlbertG More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed French Lessons much in the way that I enjoy independent foreign films that are slice of life vignettes. The three stories of Ex Pat Americans in Paris and one day in their lives with their French tutors blend seamelessly together and as a whole comprise the fullness of this novel. The differences between the French tutors and their American counterparts imbodies the differences in the two cultures on how they view love, sex and life itself. In reading this novel you achieve a sense of the cultural freedom enjoyed by the French and the cultural restrictions binding the Americans in how they go through their relationships. But by the end you see that for the French there are bonds in their freedom and for the Americans freedom in their bonds.
Lifeducks More than 1 year ago
I adored this book about self discovery and life in general!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why do these rude ppl feel the need to brag that they got the book for free for their ' honest' review, then they proceed to reveal the entire storyline? Go to a blog site or the publishers web site if you want to reveal the plot line. Stop doing it here.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
Reading this book is a pleasant way to pass time. It revolves around three French tutors. You must keep in mind the thread that connects the three: Chantal is in love with Philippe who is in love with himself, and Nico is in love with Chantal. Will the book leave with you with insights about the world, will it make you introspective about yourself, maybe a little bit, but only if you choose to dwell on the philosophical subjects the book awakens. It could be a great book to discuss with a face to face book group if someone would want to spend the time pulling out all of the conflicting moral and ethical dilemmas the characters faced. Summing up my feelings about the book, it would be a pleasant way to spend some time without taxing the brain unless you had the inclination to think more deeply about the characters' behavior. At some point, we can all identify with at least one of the problems each of the characters experienced. Is everyone lonely? How do we deal with the illness of a parent? Are all women starved for sex or some kind of exciting affair of the heart? Are all men only too eager to oblige? Does morality or ethics ever play a role in our decisions? Do promises have to be kept? Other more serious issues are casually brought up, as well. How do we deal with the death of a loved one, a parent or a secret heartthrob? Is everyone searching for passion? How do we deal with infidelity? Have we become so jaded or lazy that marriage vows are now insignificant? Does self satisfaction rule? Would we all rather live in the moment if we could get away with it? Would we have made any of the decisions made by the characters in the book? All of the characters are running from something. All of them are playing a role in Paris and the character who is the common thread is an actress who appears in each segment. Was this by the design of the author or accidental? Each of the characters is acting a part on their own stage, never showing their true selves until a moment of truth occurs. Those are the thoughts the book aroused in me when i turned the final page. The book illuminates the lives of a lot of people who had so much to be thankful for and yet chose to think of what they were missing and thought their lives were empty or emptying slowly, people who often made foolish, impetuous decisions. Each is searching for something when they are in Paris, on the same day, and they each end up in the same place on a bridge overlooking the filming of a movie. As their lives intersect, unbeknownst to each other, do any of them find solutions to their problems or are all of these exercises in escapism simply futile? They all seem so conflicted, empty, unfulfilled and lonely. Another question to consider while reading is why are so many people today feeling so lost? The women in the story seemed love or sex starved and most of the men seemed selfish and only too happy to oblige their instincts, in most cases. Is there some sort of women's agenda hidden in the pages of this book?
smg5775 More than 1 year ago
Character studies of 3 French tutors and their American students. Nico wants to save Josie. Phillippe wants to bed Riley. Chantal isn't sure what she wants. I liked these stories. All of them take place on one day when a film is being filmed in Paris and each story ends with the filming. None of the stories has the ending I thought it would have. Both the tutors and the students have to take their pasts and make peace with them and then decide how to handle the future. The solutions I think were the best ones in each situation. They also seemed clearer for the Americans. I would read her again. She has an interesting style of telling the story. I was never bored. I was always trying to figure out what would happen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was entertaining and cute. A few sweet stories. Not something that will stick in my memory for a long time, but a quick, enjoyable read. Great for the summer, probably!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Found this hard to get through. Stopped and started too many times to count. Just did not flow for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey, I'm a homeschooled thirteen-year old who has read Oliver Twist, the full unabrridged Les Miserables, Jane Eyre, The Once and Future King, and most of Jane Austen's works. So I'm not a baby, and I hate to be treated like one, because I'm very mature. So is this book appropriate for me? Cause it sounds really good! I'm only checking because my mom would get upset if I read a book without her checking it out first. Thanks!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written book about self discovery. A bit slow to get started but good ending.
thinkingaboutit More than 1 year ago
Very easy to read and well written for this kind of book. Which for lack of a better word I can only describe as a 'womens book'. Consumed with love and romance but not cheesy and very well written for the genre. I can't help but think theres a really good book waiting to be written by this author. The talent is there and also insite into human emotion. A good easy read even for a guy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not at all what I expected. I purchased because it was the Nook Find of the Day for $1.99; but I am so glad I did. I figured it would be another sappy romance novel; which I don't mind reading. The author wrote a short but intense story from a day in the life of three different main characters. Each of these people have a longing in life to find 'something' and at the end of they day, they realize what it is they are looking for. Very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago