Lessons In French







It’s 1989 and Kate has just graduated from Yale, with no idea how to pursue life as a fledging painter. So when she receives a job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she jumps at the chance. Kate may speak fluent French thanks to the two years she spent living there with cousins while her father was dying—but she is thoroughly unprepared for the seductive power of the Schell household, where Umberto Eco or Henri Cartier-Bresson might just drop by for dinner. As Kate rediscovers Paris and her roots there, and forges her own make-shift family out of a constellation of friends, she begins to question the kindness of these people to whom she is so drawn, as well as her own motives for wanting them to love her. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman defining herself, and finding her moral compass, in the tall shadow of a powerful boss.


"In Hilary Reyl’s appealing debut novel, Lessons in French, ambitious young Kate travels all the way to Paris only to find herself in a classic coming-of-age quagmire—which is to say, she becomes a powerful woman’s personal assistant. Like so many 20-somethings, Kate is compulsively anxious to please, hungry for acceptance and all-too-skilled at blending in. The French culture doesn’t help, either. She admits at the story’s outset, "They say I have no accent and that this is a gift...but when you feel invisible, there is no end to the trouble you can get into.""
--Amy Shearn, Oprah.com (Editor's Pick)
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“Paris is an irresistible backdrop and a proving ground in Hilary Reyl’s emotionally wise first novel. As Kate struggles to find who she truly is amid the ever-brewing storms in Schell household, her lessons are hard-won and often risky—and yet we believe and fully root for her from page one. An affecting and intelligently drawn debut.” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife “Hilary Reyl has crafted the ultimate sophisticated coming-of-age-story. Not since Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce have Americans in Paris seemed so compelling. Lessons in French is not only an impossibly romantic and sensual delight, but its characters—witty and surprisingly poignant—stayed with me long after I savored the final page.” >
—Joanna Hershon, author of Swimming and The German Bride


“With its complicated love story, rich cast of accomplished and eccentric characters, and vivid evocation of late 1980’s Paris, Lessons in French is a delight from the first page. I got so caught up in the story, I almost believed I was young, living in a Parisian garret, and fluent in French.”
—Stephen McCauley, author of Insignificant Others