Saturday, November 10, 2007

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

I picked up Le Divorce after finishing Exodus. After seeing the ads for the movie of the same name, I expected light, entertaining, chick lit. That was not the case. The book is much heavier and deeper than I had expected. It was without a doubt an interesting read, but not one of my favorites.
The story covers half a year in the life of two sisters, Isabel and Roxeanne. Roxeanne has married a Frenchman, moved to Paris, and is pregnant with her second child. Isabel has dropped out of film school and is moving to Paris to help her sister with her children. Arriving in Paris, Isabel discovers that Roxy's husband Charles-Henri has left her unexpectedly. The story covers the period of Roxy's pregnancy and dealing with the international laws regarding divorce in France. The main character and narrator is Isabel who has relationships of her own during her time in Paris.
The book is a great examination of French-American interpersonal relations. Johnson cuts to the chase in underlining minor but irritating differences between the two cultures that often lead to misunderstandings and problems. The expatriate American community in Paris is comic in its at once hatred of the French and yet continued desire to live in the French capital. In this, I enjoyed the book because I felt like Johnson hit on some key issues in the relations between peoples of these two nations who seem so alike but end up confounded by their differences. Using divorce as the crux of the problem opened up a number of legal and social differences between Americans and Frenchmen.
However, I had no sympathy for either of the characters. They were selfish and relatively shallow. There was nothing compelling in the plot to keep me turning the pages. I did not feel like Isabel grew through her experiences in Paris. Plus the book just seemed to end. There was a definite conclusion to the divorce problem. But there was no sense of the characters having grown or changed because of their experiences.

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