French Lessons: A Novel
by Ellen Sussman

Published: 2011-07-05
Paperback : 256 pages
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A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.

Josie, Riley, and Jeremy have come to the City of Light for different reasons: ...
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A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.

Josie, Riley, and Jeremy have come to the City of Light for different reasons: Josie, a young high school teacher, arrives in hopes of healing a broken heart. Riley, a spirited but lonely expat housewife, struggles to feel connected to her husband and her new country. And Jeremy, the reserved husband of a renowned actress, is accompanying his wife on a film shoot, yet he feels distant from her world.

As they meet with their tutors—Josie with Nico, a sensitive poet; Riley with Phillippe, a shameless flirt; and Jeremy with the consummately beautiful Chantal—each succumbs to unexpected passion and unpredictable adventures. Yet as they traverse Paris’s grand boulevards and intimate, winding streets, they uncover surprising secrets about one another—and come to understand long-buried truths about themselves.

Editorial Review

Ann Hood Reviews French Lessons

Ann Hood is the author, most recently, of the bestselling novels The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle, which will be an HBO movie starring Katherine Heigl. Read her review of French Lessons:

If you are like me and you are stuck at home this summer, I have the perfect antidote for your summertime blues: buy a copy of Ellen Sussmanâ??s new novel French Lessons, and get transported to Paris. Her characters are charming, sexy, intelligent, and most important--human. They serve as guide to the city and to the various conditions of the heart, from love to infidelity and grief to hope, with a good dose of sexual highjinks thrown in. You will savor the food and wine of Paris, discover hidden treasures, have your heartbroken and your spirits lifted, even though you are stateside. Most importantly, you will spend some hours in the pleasure of Sussmanâ??s lovely story and storytelling. This is a trip you will want to take.


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Discussion Questions

1.Which of the three storylines resonated with you the most? Why?

2.Would you rather have Nico, Philippe or Chantal as your French tutor? Why?

3.Josie finds it difficult to reveal anything about her illicit relationship. Why does Josie keep lying – even to Nico, whom she will know for less than a day? What allows her to finally open up to him?

4.Riley realizes that she doesn’t love her husband anymore, and she’s definitely not in love with Philippe. However, she does love her mother, and “knows what she has to do. Love doesn’t just sit around watching. Love jumps on a plane and shows up” (p 149). In what ways have the people you love shown up for you? Have you shown up for the people you love?

5.Does Jeremy consider himself and his wife to be a happy couple? How does his unconsummated attraction to Chantal change his feelings for his wife?

6.Nico’s poetry collection deals with the idea of multiple truths, multiple versions of the same events. How else is this idea developed in the novel?

7.What do each of the students discover about themselves during their encounters with their tutors? What do the tutors discover? How are they each transformed?

8.Paris feels like a character in the novel. How do Josie, Riley, and Jeremy’s experiences of Paris differ? What does Paris end up meaning to each of them?

9.What do you think is it about Paris that makes people fall in love (or in lust)?

Suggested by Members

How did the author come to write this book?
by Christine57 (see profile) 01/20/12

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Ellen Sussman:

Neal’s French is pretty good but he’s shy. I’m not shy. I also lived in Paris for five years. So I’m the one who does all the talking when we travel to Paris. Et voila—the perfect anniversary gift for Neal: a week of lessons with a French tutor in Paris!

I went on Craigslist and found Isabelle, a French woman who offered private lessons. She has an ingenious teaching method: she and my husband would spend every day walking the streets of Paris and speaking French. C’est bon!

Off to Paris, off to work! Neal, lucky Neal, went off for his French lesson. At the end of the day, I met him at a café. “You liked it?” I asked. He smiled. “She’s nice?” I asked. His smile spread across his face. And then it dawned on me. “Is she gorgeous?” I asked. “Oui,” he said. I realized what I had done: I bought my husband a beautiful young French woman for an anniversary present.

He had a fabulous week. Our marriage is strong enough that I didn’t really worry about Isabelle. But by the end of the week, I had an idea for a novel. What if that man, that very happily married man, began to feel the first pull of attraction for another woman? How could that experience transform him? In the end, I wanted three Americans in Paris, three French tutors, a lot of twists and turns of the heart on one hot summer day. But Jeremy was my first. And he’s close to my own heart.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "French Lessons"by Christine57 (see profile) 01/20/12

I think everyone should go to Paris and have a French tutor take them around for a week. Altough not a literary achievement, the book was fun to read and my book club members could relate t... (read more)

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