Mademoiselle Benoir

( 2 )

Overview

Christine Conrad's charming and spirited novel offers a fresh look at life's pleasures in the French countryside. Thirty-something American Tim Reinhart leaves New York and purchases a farmhouse in rural France, where he fills his days restoring the property and pursuing his artistic passion. Letters to his family and friends back home vividly illustrate Tim's blissful immersion in the divine meals, deep-rooted customs, and quirky community of his new pastoral surroundings. But his enchantment grows more ...

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Overview

Christine Conrad's charming and spirited novel offers a fresh look at life's pleasures in the French countryside. Thirty-something American Tim Reinhart leaves New York and purchases a farmhouse in rural France, where he fills his days restoring the property and pursuing his artistic passion. Letters to his family and friends back home vividly illustrate Tim's blissful immersion in the divine meals, deep-rooted customs, and quirky community of his new pastoral surroundings. But his enchantment grows more complicated when he befriends another artist—his beautiful and much older neighbor, Catherine Benoir. As their relationship escalates, tensions run high on both sides of the Atlantic. From her aristocratic family's fiery protests and his parents' pleas of caution to the astonishing response of the village locals, Tim and Catherine's love affair triggers explosive reactions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"'A Year in Provence' meets 'Le Mariage' in this epistolary first novel....Mademoiselle Benoir combines middle-aged romance with lots of day-to-day detail about life in rural France...a pleasant excursion. Catherine Deneuve would be a perfect Catherine; and for Tim, who else but Ashton Kutcher?" The New York Times Book Review

"The letters in Mademoiselle Benoir crackle as they describe a love story of depth and power . . . A lively, lovely novel."—Jacquelyn Mitchard

A Book Sense Pick: "C'est magnifique!"

"An exuberant plunge into rural French life . . . a thoroughly satisfying and thoughtful story of love triumphant." Booklist, ALA

A Summer Reading Recommendation from NPR's Morning Edition

Elsa Dixler
Mademoiselle Benoir combines middle-aged romance with lots of day-to-day detail about life in rural France. There are too many comparisons between the United States and France, and the lectures on French tradition sometimes become wearying, but Conrad's novel is still a pleasant excursion.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Conrad's pleasant first novel follows Tim Reinhart, a 30-something American mathematics professor, as he transforms a run-down farmhouse in the south of France into habitable living quarters and an artist's studio, struggling with the vagaries of French culture, romance and inheritance laws along the way. The story unfolds entirely through letters and diary entries-an artifice that loses steam halfway through the story-and though the author captures the charms and frustrations an outsider encounters in France, she doesn't achieve a credible male voice or the quirky appeal of A Year in Provence. Tim's on-again-off-again relationship with a neighbor, Marcelline Becaze, a lawyer in a nearby village, provides some spice, but the culture clash really heats up when his friendship with Catherine Benoir, a French woman nearly 30 years his senior, deepens into romance. Catherine's older sister, Pauline, is horrified at this slap in the face to French tradition. Her extreme and often amusing attempts to quash the relationship provide an intriguing look into French mores and traditions. Though she turns most of her family against Tim and Catherine and tries to use her family's clout with the Catholic Church to impede their nuptials, love, as always, prevails. (Jan. 4) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When mathematician Tim Reinhart leaves academia behind, buys a small farmhouse in France, and devotes his life to painting and quiet contemplation, his friends and family think he's crazy. Through his letters, they hear about the colorful characters in his village, his complicated romance with lawyer Marcelline, and his increasing involvement with the aristocratic Benoir family. Eventually, Tim finds true love in an unexpected place and learns firsthand about French and American cultural differences. This first novel's epistolary format poses a bit of a problem: readers lose some immediacy of emotion and observation. Also, Conrad's prose is not richly descriptive enough to carry off a story told in this format. Yet the characters are likable and engaging, and it's hard not to root for them. Many public library readers will welcome this unusual love story without explicit sex and vulgarity. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A May/September love story set in contemporary rural France, based on actual events. Tim Reinhart, a professor in New York, decides to relocate to the French countryside, buying a run-down old house in under-populated Midi. Explanations for the move include the desire to paint and to enjoy "an authentic life," yet neither is convincingly rendered. The book's epistolary form does not help, layering artifice and formality over the simple business of narration. Nor do Tim's initial, formulaic experiences: Comparable to those found in A Year in Provence and other travelogues, they include home improvements, touristy excursions and attempts to get cozy with suspicious, sometimes comic locals. Conrad (Jerome Robbins, 2000) adds a moody French girlfriend, Marcelline, some sketching and a growing appreciation of French gastronomy, and then introduces a highborn local family, the Benoirs, who offer Tim superior hospitality at their decaying yet beautiful chateau. Now the novel shifts gears, focusing more closely on tradition, family and some of France's more calcified social aspects. Catherine Benoir, 20 years older, an artist, and Catholic, becomes Tim's valued confidante, especially when relations with Marcelline go awry. The two fall in love and, given the prudery of French provincial life, decide to get married. Tim's mother's subsequent skepticism is nothing compared to the mouth-foaming fury of Catherine's sister Pauline, who calls Tim the Devil, claims that Catherine is suffering from Alzheimer's and writes to the pope. Romantic cliche gives way to another vision of the country-bureaucratic and stiff with hidebound conventions-as Catherine and Tim struggle to persuade the civil andreligious authorities to permit their wedding. A love letter to la belle France in the form of a lumpy romance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618772094
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/9/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,057,827
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRISTINE CONRAD has worked as the New York City film commissioner, as an editor in book publishing, as a screenwriter for motion pictures and television, and as an advocate for women's health. Her most recent book, Jerome Robbins, is a pictorial biography inspired by her long friendship with the choreographer. Conrad lives in Los Angeles.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2006

    a heartfelt, rich, and original love story

    I am beginning my third reading of this lovely lovely novel. The story is so gentle and real. It is truly among my favorite novels...totally memorable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2006

    I loved this Book!

    Deftly captures the experiences of an American in the French coutryside through letters to and from a young man's parents and siblings. The love story is touching and not the least bit maudlin.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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