I was contacted in March by February Partners–a book PR and marketing firm based in New York City and asked if I would like to review a copy of Hilary Reyl’s first novel titled : “Lessons in French”. I told them, sure…why not, and then forgot about it until I received the book a few weeks later. Honestly I did not know the author, and I never really expected to discover a book that really made me feel anything. I was assuming that this would be another one of those “Paris books” about how a girl comes to Paris and falls in love, and writes about how she adjusted and nana-ni nana-na as we say in French. I also assumed I would have to write some bland review about how it was a “nice charming portrait of Paris and what it is like to come live here”… Boy was I wrong!
Can I start by stating, to just make it all clear, that I LOVED THIS BOOK!
I began reading it and was drawn in after the first chapter because of the beautiful descriptions and intensely intriguing characters, and then I didn’t let it out of sight until I was finished. I took it with me on the metro, I read it on my lunch breaks, it was also serving as nighttime reading which is supposed to make me fall asleep, but this book kept me awake.
What did I enjoy so much about this story?
Well, first it is about a girl who comes to Paris, Kate is the character’s name, and she isn’t some naive little bird who can’t understand the language, non, she has been doted with a dual nationality (thanks to her father’s side of the family) and she has full comprehension of this beautiful language and thus the author eliminates one of the over-done conflicts that most characters have when they arrive from abroad in the city of lights. Secondly, this character has an incredibly insightful talent for self analysis. The kind I dream of having for myself. It doesn’t mean she has confidence (she doesn’t, which is also one of her problems) but it does make for a super awesome story teller who knows EXACTLY who the characters is as she tells the story from a first person’s point of view. The reader feels just as the character feels while reading the story.
Kate comes to Paris to work for an American photographer in at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall. She must reconnect with her French cousins whom she knew in her childhood, and learn how to navigate becoming an adult in the insane household of her employer all while escaping occasionally to explore the 5th and 6th neighborhoods. The elements of the plot are completely believable and more than entertaining.
But the cherry on the cake is Hilary’s beautiful use of words. You can tell she loves words, and that is why she writes. They clink and pop together like perfectly fitting snaps that have a delightful ring to them, yet I rarely see writers use such interesting combinations of words and imagery.
“Young Monsieur was sitting at the kitchen table. He was tousled, and there was a fresh warmth to him, a waft of the morning bread from the boulangeries I could remember from my childhood.
He must have just emerged from that soft rustled bed I had glimpsed in the hallway, Portia’s bed. Without being able to look straight at him, I knew he was the most attractive person I’d ever seen. He was reedy and lithe. His hair tumbled like light over features of brushed elegance, light brown eyes, cheekbones curved and quick as the paws of a cat.”
Another passage describes two young French women indulging… I love the contrast of gourmand/gourmet words along side words that indicate that which is small, tight and petit :
“My gaze rested on a nearby table, where two pert young women were working their neat way through triangles of raspberry tart. Their hands swirling energy as they talked and chewed. The raspberries took leap after balletic leap into their small mouths. ‘C’est pas possible!‘ one was saying as the other lifted a beautiful even forkful of pâte sablée and crème pâtisserie and franboises.”
I enjoyed this book immensely for the inspiring vocabulary, the intriguing and fun story line and the main character with whom I could so easily relate. A fantastic first novel by Hilary Reyl.
Curious yet?!? Get your own copy on Amazon. I would love to hear opinions from anyone else who has read it!