Lessons in French: A Novel

Lessons in French: A Novel

by Hilary Reyl
4.1 11


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Lessons in French: A Novel by Hilary Reyl

A sophisticated and page-turning debut novel about a young American woman’s coming-of-age in Paris.

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 receives a job offer to work 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 it all, but also to return to France for the first time since she was a lonely nine-year-old girl, 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 dazzled and wildly impressionable. She finds herself surrounded by a seductive cast of characters, including the bright, pretentious Schells, with whom she boards, and 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, while trying to fit into Lydia’s glamorous and complicated family, she begins to question the kindness of the people to whom she is so drawn as well as her own motives for wanting them to love her.

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. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451655032
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 03/05/2013
Pages: 341
Product dimensions: 5.84(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

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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Lessons in French 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
MTDIVA More than 1 year ago
Fabulous cover artwork! I know we should never "judge a book by its cover" - but- this jacket immediately captured my attention. The story is centered around Kate, a young American who goes to work for an eclectic photographer, Lydia Schell and boards with the Schell family in the 6th Arrondissement. From here, the story unfolds into several subplots. Lydia's husband is having an affair, the precocious daughter breaks up with her lover, only to have Kate begin seeing him, and the radical son causes household disruption. The book had an easy flow, was easy to follow, but lacked the luster I had anticipated. It failed to capture the sights, sounds and flavor of Paris. I didn't think it wrapped up the subplots nicely, chopped and disjointed, and really not in an interest for a follow-up/sequence novel. Hilary Reyl does show promise as a writer, it just was unfortunate this first novel fell a little short. It has been recommended for our bookclub reading, but not a "top recommendation"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jmchshannon really nailed it. The protagonist is surprisingly "naïve, weak, and easily manipulated. Her deep-seated need to please everyone quickly evolves from endearing to annoying. Similarly, her inability to heed the advice of her friends is maddening .' The plot is woefully thin. The antagonists, the Shells, are poisonous people that subjected sadistic torute on the protagonist. Nice reminders of Paris haunts, but that's not enough to justify a 308 page read. PJJ.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this wonderful trip back to Paris c. 1989. If only life were always so delicious and so witty! Hilary Reyl's debut novel is a delight from start to finish. A must-read for anyone who's ever yearned to be an expat intellectual--or just to walk down Rue St Honore eating a baguette!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down!  A lovely and entertaining read, rich with characters that will inspire you to book your tickets to Paris tout de suite!!  I highly recommend. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A gorgeous escape to Paris! Reyl's sumptuous and transporting debut delivers a compassionate coming of age set against all the deliciousness of the City of Lights. J'adore ce livre! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a delightful read.  I was drawn into Katie's story form the first chapter and believed at the end that her lessons. and especially her Paris, were mine as well.  Reyl skillfully summons marvelous characters, big and small. As Katie's life in Paris, (and her predicament!), deepens, I came to relish each character's re-appearance, especially the imposing and irresistible, Lydia Schell, who looms over them all.  'Lessons' is the fluent work of an assured talent.  Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A coming of age -- American in Paris -- story that is equal parts charming, sharp, intuitive and devastating. Beyond all else, it's authentic, and it's Paris, and that's why I loved it the way I did. Kudos to Hilary Reyl for a truly triumphant debut.  
jmchshannon More than 1 year ago
Kate has the opportunity of a lifetime in her role as the assistant to a famous photographer. Not only will she be living with the Schell family, meeting their famous circle of friends, but she will have the opportunity to work on improving her art in a city that caters to untried artists around the globe. Hilary Reyl’s debut novel, Lessons in French, follows Kate as she adjusts to her new surroundings, meeting new friends, connecting with old ones, and discovering love and life in the quintessential city for doing just that. Kate is meant to be sympathetic – a young woman with parental issues looking to find herself in Paris. However, she comes across as particularly naïve, weak, and easily manipulated. Her deep-seated need to please everyone quickly evolves from endearing to annoying. Similarly, her inability to heed the advice of her friends is maddening. Someone with the strength and mental fortitude it takes to move to a different country and start a new live-in job with strangers should have more of a backbone than the one not exhibited by Kate. It is almost as if she feels it necessary to punish herself for some unknown, long-ago indiscretion, but the punishment lasts too long and does not fit whatever crime she believes she committed. The end result is a character whose mental turmoil irritates rather than creates sympathy, which is not necessarily optimal for a coming-of-age story. Living in Paris, or at least abroad, is a dream most people will never realize. The history, the architecture, the atmosphere – they all help Paris feel like the ideal locale to find oneself and learn about life. Yet, Ms. Reyl’s version of Paris is one that diminishes the mystique of this beloved city. The charming elements of the city have been tainted by the milieu into which Kate has been thrust. The Schells are horrible snobs, looking down on anyone who does not hold their same ideals and perfectly awful towards those who are no longer in their favor. Their liberal airs border on the maniacal, while their esoteric jokes about such things as Deconstructionism and sycophancy in journalism feel overdone and false. A reader is left wondering if people actually talk like the Schells and cannot help but feel disappointed that their influence diminishes the quirky aspects of the city. Even worse, the Schells are mere caricatures of the artists and upper class that flocked to Paris during the Gilded Age, clueless about the true issues of the day but convinced that they are making a difference and establishing a legacy. They live in their own sheltered world but feel that their work captures what life is like for those not in their social sphere. One could almost feel sympathy for Portia and Joshua, if one did not understand that they are active participants in their own misery, thoroughly enjoying being caught up in their parents’ drama. It is no little amount of irony that Joshua is the most sensible in his family but considered the most problematic family member. Their treatment of Kate is similarly clichéd, with Lydia filling in the role of the tyrannical boss a la The Devil Wears Prada, Clarence the well-meaning buffer who also exploits the help for his own gains, Portia’s own demands of Kate as her personal maid, and Joshua’s lack of demands. Readers automatically know the struggles Kate will face and the lessons she is going to learn, leaving very little in the way of surprise. Speaking of lessons learned, it is astonishing at just how little Kate does learn about herself and about others. While she understands that she is being manipulated by the entire Schell family, she never truly learns to stand up for herself. She lets others make decisions for her, and only until events unfold will she make a resolution and take a stand. Even her choice to leave Paris is not necessarily hers but rather forced upon her based on previous events. Kate is a bit too passive for such a novel. Ms. Reyl, for all her efforts, fails to break new ground or create a lasting character in her debut novel. Even though there have been many coming-of-age stories over the centuries, many have been done memorably well. Lessons in French is not one of them, as there is an overt lack of originality to the plot and to the characters that prevents it from standing apart from other similar stories. In addition, Kate’s distinct lack of boldness defeats the purpose of the entire story, as the main character in a coming-of-age novel should actually learn something about herself rather than follow in others’ wakes. Even the Parisian backdrop is lacking, as the focus of Kate’s Paris experiences revolves more around food and less about the other elements of the city. In other words, Lessons in French is a major disappointment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fabulous, evocative rendition of Paris in the late 80s and a touching and insightful tale of a young woman finding her voice. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book!  I wish I were young and in Paris!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not read the book but bought it for my girlfriend..she has not put it down since she started it so I assume it is pretty good as she's ignoring me although she has thanked me a few times.  I will definitely get another Reyl book as I am showing my sensitive side apparently.