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Le Divorce (William Abrahams Book) Paperback – Bargain Price, July 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Diane Johnson updates the transatlantic novel so gorgeously rendered by Henry James, Edith Wharton, William Dean Howells, and Nathaniel Hawthorne; evokes the spirit of such expatriates sojourning in Paris as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and mines the pathos of modern fiction in creating this wonderful and important novel. Isabel Walker, eerily reminiscent of James's Isabel Archer, is a young film-school dropout who travels to Paris to aid her stepsister, who is going through a divorce. Isabel's California cool, American freedoms, and feminist slants comingle, successfully and fractiously, with the customs, biases, and complex sexuality of modern Europe. The result modulates between introspection and hilarity, and a quick, Hollywood-inspired sweep of violent action in the end doesn't undermine the author's mastery of Old World vs. New--in fact, it provides an ironic scrim. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

It's no accident that the epigraph for this delightfully urbane social tragicomedy is taken from Henry James. Narrator Isabel Walker is a latter-day Isabel Archer, a charming, intelligent but naive American in Paris, who thinks herself sophisticated and analytical until her eyes are opened during the ironic, erotic and shocking events in the course of which she comes of age. Restless and unfocused, a drop-out from film school at Berkeley, Isabel is sent to Paris to help her pregnant step-sister, Roxy, through a difficult time: Roxy's husband, Charles-Henri Persand, has left her and their toddler daughter to run off with another woman. Isabel accepts a motley range of jobs in the American expatriate community?running errands, helping a famous writer with her files, serving at parties, etc.?and becomes aware of the jealousy and backbiting among the insular set. At first totally at sea because of the language barrier, she also gradually becomes aware that a chasm of misunderstandings and basic attitudinal differences lies beneath the cordial facade of Franco-American relationships. Meanwhile, an heirloom painting that Roxy brought to Paris is suddenly discovered to be an immensely valuable La Tour; under French law, it will be considered part of the divorce settlement. The tangled provenance of this painting creates tensions among the Walker family's half-siblings. The wealthy and powerful Persand family are also beset by a series of emotional involvements, including Isabel's own clandestine relationship with Charles-Henri's elderly uncle, a charming roue and political eminence grise. By the time the various strands of the plot culminate in surreal scenes at EuroDisney and the poubelles (refuse bins) of Roxy's apartment building, Isabel has become wiser about herself and the world, though she realizes that her point of view will always be colored by her Californian mindset. Johnson's (Persian Nights) control of her material is impeccable. The world of American expatriates is fertile territory for her ironic wit, which is both subtle and sharp. Everything here delights the reader: the sinuous plot with its rising suspense; the charged insights into family dynamics; the reflections on morality as perceived on both sides of the Atlantic; the witty asides on food, politics and sibling rivalry; the dialogue, which reflects both American and French speech patterns and social conventions; and the views of Paris itself, seen through the eyes of an ingenue who grows in sophistication as she begins to understand the reality that permeates this city of romance.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: William Abrahams Book
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452284481
  • ASIN: B004JZWLI6
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,516,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By HeyJudy VINE VOICE on September 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read LE DIVORCE when it first had been published and, while I didn't hate it, I didn't like it much, either. I've never since bothered to read another book by author Diane Johnson since that time; admittedly, she seems to be doing just fine without me.
Generally, when one first reads a novel and then sees the movie into which the story is made, one inevitably says, "Oh, the book was better." Not so with LE DIVORCE.
Perhaps it is as much a tribute to the screenwriter as to the original author, but the film makes the story far more believable than the printed page did, and the characters also seem better developed. (Or maybe that's just due to the excellent casting and attractive actors who people the characters.) Even the climactic event which resolves the story seems, somehow, more plausible on the screen.
By all means, see the film if you're interested in this story. It will be quicker and far more pleasurable than reading the novel. And you'll be getting a swell travelogue about Paris at its most lovely, with its modern day aristocrats, thrown in for no extra charge.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By erica on January 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Le Divorce" is the coming-of-age tale of a young American in Paris. Isabel, the narrator, has left her California life to live with her sister, Roxeanne, who is pregnant and whose husband has just left her for another woman. Isabel is introduced to her sister's in-laws, a varied and entertaining clan, and she takes on a slew of odd jobs that lend glimpses of the lives of Parisians and the Americans who live among them. She enters into a clandestine affair with a Frenchman and begins to develop her own opinions about what it means to be American or French, at home or foreign. Meanwhile the drama of Roxeanne's imminent divorce unfolds, entwining the two families in a dispute over a newly-valuable painting. As the plot rises, Isabel's family arrives in Paris to mediate, opposing forces clash more bluntly, and the situation becomes increasingly complicated.

All this complexity can be distracting; aside from the two central plots (the divorce and the affair) there are several subplots which appear at intervals and are never fully resolved. The final chapters of the book, rather than taking on the real work of finishing the story in accordance with its themes, create an artificial crisis, inconsistent with the book's tone and style, to provide a convenient resolution. The characters are sufficiently developed but not terribly likeable (the main character, in particular, is conceited and self-centered as well as naive). But, despite these drawbacks, the book is an enjoyable read. It is a pleasant mood piece, fun and frivolous. The Parisian setting and the enthusiastically described clothes and meals add a bit of exotic flair. At times, the story approaches the wry hilarty of an Austen-esque comedy of manners, and these are its best moments.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Denise Bentley on November 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Isabel is from Santa Barbara, California. She has just arrived in France to help her pregnant sister when she finds out that Roxy’s philandering husband, Charles Henri, has flown the coop! Roxy finds herself depressed, alone and left to face the in-laws at their weekly Sunday dinner in the country. Needless to say she is not having a good day. It is time to start proceedings for “Le Divorce”.
While in Paris, Isabel, who has been a bit of a wandering spirit with little to no sense of who she is, becomes enamored with an elderly gentleman who guides her into the life of pleasure that Paris has to offer. She enjoys politics, art, and the opera. The world opens before her like an oyster that produces the most opalescent pearl. “Le Divorce” surges on and things get ugly and scandals abound. It all comes to a most unexpected ending that I will allow the reader to discover.
Paris is presented to the reader like a fine jewel on a silver tray. A wonderful look at a different culture and how they view Americans. Superbly written and intelligently played out, I can see why this book was a National Book Award Finalist. (...)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By KIRBY HALL on November 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
I loved this story. Of course, I lived in Paris, and I'm an American married to a French woman. But I think Ms. Johnson hit the nail on the head many times when she described Parisian lifestyles, Californian lifestyles, and how those two lifestyles often clash when brought face to face (and body to body, in the case of Oncle Edgar).
The fate of the painting was a perfect deus ex machina to bring out the cultural issues that arise when two families from different countries become joined through a marriage. The author's knowledge of Paris, French life, and even French law was impressive and accurate. She did her homework.
There are many truths contained in this novel, and for that reason alone one might consider curling up on a couch one cold night and jumping in. That and the sumptuously described characters and settings that fill up the story. You will not be disappointed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By cody hudock on January 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Le Divorce takes the reader on a trip to Paris with Isabel Walker. The novel's 22 year old heroine, a USC Film School drop out chock full of naiveté, travels to Paris to care for her pregnant sister. She is seeking, of course, something more; she wants, like any twenty-something, a little culture, R&R, and hopefully some direction. Diane Johnson does an admirable job writing as Isabel in the first person, growing her from innocent American to savvy Franco-American in a matter of a hundred pages. The book examines the cultural and social differences between the United States and France, and the intracacies of the small and tightly-knit American population that calls France their home. Johnson's narritive is thouroughly unbiased, pointing out the idiocy and splendor of both cultures.
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