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A Wedding in Provence

Review

A Wedding in Provence

With an air of whimsy, Ellen Sussman has delivered a lighthearted tale of love, trust, secrets and family in her new novel, A WEDDING IN PROVENCE. Told with intimate authority and against the backdrop of southern France, Sussman brings the countryside to life with her rich narrative. Picturesque vineyards and tropical beaches are vividly portrayed, as this story of love lost intertwines within the lives of those who take a chance at amore again. Luckily, Sussman lived in France for five years, so hers is a “fable” that can spark a magical aura in many of us, as she shares a romantic tale that could end with a “Happily ever after…”

What could be more exciting or romantic than a wedding in the French countryside? Nothing, as far as Olivia and Brody are concerned --- until they find out it isn’t. Who would have thought that a quiet, intimate family gathering for their nuptials would soon turn into a “war of wills”? Here, differing personalities will clash, like waves against the shoreline as a storm approaches. And, as the story unfolds, upstaging seems to be a major occurrence when all the characters get together.

"...a lighthearted tale of love, trust, secrets and family... Told with intimate authority and against the backdrop of southern France, Sussman brings the countryside to life with her rich narrative.

In most instances, any time you have a story with “wedding” in the title, you conjure up all kinds of bridal-related images, and yes, that is the gist of the novel. But there are also some twists in the road that help make its slow start pick up the pace --- becoming a drama full of surprises and emotional breakthroughs as Olivia and her daughters learn to accept the fact that their lives are about to change…for better or worse. In fact, not only does the wedding stir up a lot of emotions in the bride, everyone develops a self-introspective on some dormant emotions and past errors that may or may not make this story end in a shower of rice.

The wedding will take place at an inn owned by Olivia’s best friend, Emily, and her husband, Sebastian. Surrounded by vibrant gardens and vineyards, this place is earmarked to become the idyllic setting for this intimate gathering of the bride, groom and wedding guests. But it soon turns out that all is not well with the owners of this scenic inn, making it just one of many problems casting pallor on the festive weekend.

Lo and behold, when Olivia’s two daughters, Carly and Nell, come to spend the weekend with their mom --- watching her marry a man who is not their father --- it isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered for either of them. With their own agenda, bordering on baggage, both girls shake things up in their own special way. Ultimately, while sumptuous food and wine narratives flow lavishly throughout the pages of the book, not even these distractions can cover up the underlying secrets that can keep families together or apart.

While the delicate balance of the entire weekend is upset by Nell and Emily’s affairs of the heart, more problems are on the horizon. Emily, who is hosting the wedding, discovers that Sebastian has had an affair, which devastates her and threatens the state of their marriage. Then, to top it off, Brody’s mother, Fanny, arrives for the wedding --- without his father. Apparently, her husband has gone into hiding and, after 55 years of marriage --- give or take a year or two --- wants nothing more to do with his family. So, with this much chaos in the midst of a supposedly idyllic weekend, how can one choose love as a theme song?

A WEDDING IN PROVENCE, told from the perspectives of Olivia and her two daughters, ultimately confirms that “love can conquer all” when you give yourself permission to try your hand at it. Ellen Sussman confirms this philosophy here and states, “The burning question that drove me through draft after draft of this novel was this: How do we commit to marriage, knowing what we do about the challenges of relationships? With many of the characters based on her own love story, she also admits that, like her, all the characters at that weekend wedding --- the family and best friends of Olivia and Brody --- struggle with love. And yet, like the bride and groom, most partners realize that when you begin a new life together, no matter your age, difficulties will arise. The ultimate test of true love is how you face these issues. When done with wisdom and tolerance, knowing that “the fire must be tended,” then and only then will the power of love transform you.

Reviewed by Donna Smallwood on July 25, 2014

A Wedding in Provence
by Ellen Sussman

  • Publication Date: July 15, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345548957
  • ISBN-13: 9780345548955