Lessons in French | Author: Hilary Reyl | Rating: 8/11 |
Breakout novelist Hilary Reyl puts a modern spin on the coming-of-age tale with a story of a young American woman in Paris. When Kate is offered a job as an assistant to Lydia, a glamorous and famous photographer, she gets far more than she signed on for, navigating the complexity of infiltrating Lydia’s family dynamic and the variety of characters that comprise it. Add to the chaos an ill-fated love affair, mix in an emotionally-laden family history, and you have the makings of a bomb – one strong enough that you can only wonder when, not if, it will detonate.
Despite Kate’s fluent and beautiful French, and her time spent in Paris as a young girl while her father was dying, Kate quickly realizes that there is more to her job than she once believed – and more to her mercurial employer than meets the eye.
Adding to the feeling of unrest in the novel are the historical events taking place in the background – events that play into the story given Lydia’s job as a famed photographer. At the beginning of the story the year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to fall: an event referred to at multiple points when the narrative, itself, seems to be illustrating a divide between those who work as domestic help and those who employ them. The AIDS epidemic is also beginning to take hold, both in Europe and in the life of the main character.
Although Lessons in French is a thoughtful debut novel that leaves the reader interested in what is still to come from Reyl, there is little contained in the prose that hasn’t been done before. Still, a strong start for an up-and-coming author.