Friday, September 08, 2006

LE DIVORCE

Le Divorce, Diane Johnson, Penguin Putnam Inc, 1997, 309 pp

OK, I read this because I want to see the movie, but I like to read the book first. I bought it in trade paperback which has a cover that totally led me to think it was chick lit. I had read maybe one review years ago of which I remembered nothing except a tone of respect in the reviewer.

So I get halfway through and I am loving it. Two girls from Santa Barbara in Paris; step-sisters. One is married to a Frenchman and pregnant with her second child. The other has just arrived to be a help to her step-sister. Isabel is 19, a film-school drop out and sort of black sheep because she doesn't know what to do with her life.

Through Isabel's eyes we see all the cultural conflicts between French and Americans. We see the allure of Paris for the newcomer. And because Roxanne (the sister) has a husband who has left her for a lover, we see through Isabel's mostly non-comprehending eyes, the way the French deal with infidelity-basically a combination of denial and c'est la vie acceptance.

Then I made my big mistake. In the morning, drinking coffee, thinking about how much I am surprised by the book, I think, "Who is Diane Johnson anyway?" I google her. I learn all about how she writes novels of manners in a Henry James style but from a female point of view. I personally cannot stand Henry James and those English novels of manners. I can only take Jane Austen in very small doses.

So I finished Le Divorce but it was now spoiled for me. I felt outside of the book now. I felt like a critic. Never again will I look up a new (to me) author before I have completed her novel. I'd much rather be ignorant and feel the magic.

I didn't like the ending. It seemed that a mystery had developed during the latter half of the book but there were lots of clues and loose ends that were not wrapped up. The only thing is, now I will never know if I would have felt that way, regardless. All is not lost however. I want to read her other books.

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