2014: 2. Le Divorce


"I suppose because I went to film school, I think of my story as a sort of film."

Le Divorce, Diane Johnson

Ok, this book.  Well, I picked up somewhere second hand, because I heard it was good (and indeeed, the cover has a "National Book Award Finalist" logo on it, which suggests someone thought it was good).  And I read it cover to cover, but, much like Fangirl, my feelings are mixed.    

It's the story of Isabel, who dropped out of college, and moved to Paris to live with her pregnant step-sister Roxy, to babysit and to find herself.  Complications ensue, largely due to the fact that the same day she arrives, her brother-in-law has left her sister for another woman, and the book is mostly about how French families/attitudes/morality are different from American families/attitudes/moralities, seen through the eyes of Isabel.

BUT, my goodness, I was not a fan of Isabel.  First of, seriously, it takes chutzpah to call your American ingenue in Europe Isabel. We get it, you read A Portrait of a Lady.  But you are setting yourself up for some big shoes to fill when you go that route, and unsurprisingly, Johnson is not Henry James.  And I say that as not the world's biggest Henry James fan, either.   Our Isabel starts as an unsophisticated (yet sex-loving) American, who is introduced to French culture and becomes more sophisticated but no more likeable.  Maybe that is the point - that despite all the talk about France and how different/better it is from America, that we are all the same underneath? Or that we are who we are and the cultural stuff is just filler?  I couldn't tell if Johnson was serious or satyrical with her "America is like this/France is like that" routine.  No Jamesian nuance, for sure. 

Moreover, why was this book a finalist for the National Book award? Not to go all Jen Weiner on you, but how is this different from books that are put in a "chick lit" ghetto? I can think of many, many books that are better and got no critical acclaim.  I don't know - maybe I wasn't in the mood for this sort of satire, but Le Divorce didn't really work for me.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017