Review

French Lessons

by Ellen Sussman

FRENCH LESSONS is a literary treat that will entice readers to escape through the romance of strolling the arrondissements, museums and cafés of Paris with three American students paired with three French tutors, all with secrets, sexy smiles and erotic desires.

"Sip and savor Parisian glamour, romance and wine, and do consider FRENCH LESSONS as enlightening as a visit to the Louvre."

"Paris is our classroom," and author Ellen Sussman is our tutor --- a skilled tutor who has found her niche with a voice that instills self-discovery in her readers, as well as her rich characters. The idea, born from one of her visits to Paris, lends personality and a reality that is not to be ignored. Readers will see Paris with renewed possibility. Sip and savor Parisian glamour, romance and wine, and do consider FRENCH LESSONS as enlightening as a visit to the Louvre.

These are modern French lessons, cultivated by Josie, Riley and Jeremy in the City of Love, through stepping outside their comfort zones to be a Francophile for a day --- speak like one, shop like one, love like one. The tutors are not mere tutors of the French language, but rather inject sin, temptation and illicit trysts into the lessons. Readers are expected to bring their own joie de vivre and salivate as the couples meander amidst the grandeur of Paris --- across the bridges, through the colorful markets, along the Seine, atop the Eiffel Tower, and inside the infamous cafés that define the romance of Parisian life. We are positioned between the past and present of each character's life, love and loss, caught up in the emotional baggage that permeates this group of American expatriates and French tutors. Each story of love and heartbreak ends at the scene of a movie being filmed on the Pont des Arts.

French lesson #1: Reinvent yourself. Josie, a grieving schoolteacher who has lost Simon, the love of her life, before their secret romantic trip to Paris, takes the first step to healing by purchasing a pair of sexy stiletto shoes with the help of her smitten French tutor, Nico. Nico draws the first smiles from Josie as she is transformed into someone else, with the shoes and a sassy haircut. Josie's memories of her illicit affair with a married man include wondering why men cheat, if she was Simon's first affair, and if love is limited to a life where no one else exists. As the lesson takes them to the Musée Maillol, a small Parisian museum dedicated to photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Nico confesses his secrets, and Josie allows tears for her beloved Simon to cleanse her soul and see that Nico is flirting with her. There is life after Simon, and Josie considers running away to Provence with Nico.

French lesson #2: Love does not have to be so complicated --- an affair is just a moment in time. Riley is the one American who hates Paris. She is intimidated by the language, she has fallen out of love with her absentee husband, Vic, and her two-year-old son has adjusted to Parisian life better than she has. Riley tries hard to fit in, but is lonely and finds more comfort in breastfeeding her baby than in making new friends. She doesn't recognize herself anymore, and her handsome French tutor Philippe will not allow English at all, frustrating her to tears. When a French lesson leads to an afternoon tryst with Philippe, Riley has "just arrived" in Paris for the first time. Philippe is exposed for his nonchalant Parisian attitude toward sex and love, but Riley has a newfound purpose, a pride wearing her large movie-star sunglasses that identify her as an American with a direction for her future: "Sometimes we have to see the world through different glasses."

French lesson #3: It's okay to be someone else, even for a little while. Chantal is the only female French tutor in the group and momentarily entices Jeremy, the handsome husband of Dana, the American actress starring in the movie scene being shot on the Pont des Arts. Knowing today is their last lesson, Jeremy's senses are seduced by the "feeling that he's seeing everything for the first time." He looks at Paris through new eyes, proud of his perfection of the language of love. "He's someone else when he speaks French --- someone more intriguing, more mysterious." Chantal dreams of writing children's books and keeps looking for love in all the wrong places, including Philippe. Jeremy and Dana are in love, and it's their anniversary, yet Jeremy finds himself wondering about, as Sussman so poignantly describes, "running away from himself in order to find himself."

Jeremy's words to his sexy wife sum up the essence of FRENCH LESSONS: "I was pretending to be your dashing French lover." Jeremy's new confidence with the French language emboldened him to reinvent himself, to be someone else for a moment in time. Just as Dana bares all for an explicit movie scene, Josie, Riley and Jeremy take chances in the City of Love and Lights in a provocative manner that evokes art, fantasy and fulfillment.

Reviewed by Hillary Wagy on July 5, 2011

French Lessons
by Ellen Sussman

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 034552277X
  • ISBN-13: 9780345522771