Review

L'Affaire

by Diane Johnson


Amy Hawkins, strikingly rich, blond and American, comes to believe she has no sense of culture. Having sold her share in a tech company that netted her an obscene amount of money, she takes herself and her good intentions off to France where she thinks she can learn things of value for meaningful living. While she waits for a suitable apartment in Paris to be fitted out for her, she dons a silver ski suit and hooks up with a handsome instructor at a small but highly fashionable resort in the French Alps. An entertaining couple of days into her stay, the weather turns wicked, loosing a cavalcade of snow that gathers itself into a dodgy avalanche, burying several skiers lacking the requisite speed to get out of its way. One couple, Adrian and Kerry Venn, are among the unfortunate stragglers, leaving their infant child and her teenage brother to fend for themselves in the Hotel St. Croix Bernard at the foot of the slopes.

While the couple lies in a coma, their combined children gather around with conflicting motives and with a common purpose: to protect their stake in the theoretical inheritance. Despite Kerry's signs of stirring, the outlook for Adrian is grim. Not sure whether or not to root for his survival, the children hover in an attempt to ensure their portion of the estate, which will be divided far differently depending on whether he dies in France or England. Never mind his desires stated in the will, and never mind his new wife. Laws are laws.

That's when benevolent American Amy Hawkins steps in to save the day. She believes airlifting the near-dead Adrian to the highly regarded Brompton hospital in England will give him a better chance at recovery, so she shells out the exorbitant sum for the trip. However, Amy's actions backfire on her. No one hails her as a heroine; in fact, they frown on her more as a meddler. She is, after all, American and the rumor has it that American warplanes caused the avalanche in the first place. Now this prying, uncultured --- albeit beautiful --- woman has interjected herself into the wretched family's personal tragedy. Even her earnest enrollment in French language and cooking lessons is viewed by the skeptical foreigners as vastly self-serving. What else would you expect of an American?

Meantime, with the snow swirling at the windows, the hotel guests seem to fall in love --- and in bed --- with the ease of skis sliding downhill. They find themselves amusing each other in highly inventive ways when they are not taking cheap potshots at one another. But their sights remain always on the treasure.

With a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) humor that creeps up on you and overtakes you like the avalanche that overtook the Venns, L'AFFAIRE exposes a surfeit of life's absurdities. It explores the notion that traveling --- or worse, attempting to live --- abroad can become decidedly challenging.

This witty book reads like one would imagine a French soap opera. There's plenty of sex, adultery, social barbs, partner switching, an illegitimate child, a divorcee or two, and some royalty thrown into the mix for good measure. It is, as the English poet Robin Crumley (Hotel St. Croix Bernard resident) might have said, a rollicking good time.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011

L'Affaire
by Diane Johnson

  • Publication Date: August 31, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452285631
  • ISBN-13: 9780452285637