NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
"If one were to cross Jane Austen and Henry James, the result would be Diane Johnson."—San Francisco Chronicle
The national bestseller and inspiration for the major motion picture starring Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson!
Called "stylish... refreshing... genuinely wise” by The New York Times Book Review,this delightful comedy of manners and morals, money, marriage, and murder follows smart, sexy, and impeccably dressed American Isabel Walker as she lands in Paris to visit her stepsister Roxy, a poet whose marriage to an aristocratic French painter has assured her a coveted place in Parisian society—until her husband leaves her for the wife of an American lawyer. Could "le divorce" be far behind? Can irrepressible Isabel keep her perspective (and her love life) intact as cultures and human passions collide?
"Social comedy at its best" (Los Angeles Times Book Review), Le Divorce is Diane Johnson at her most scintillating and sublime.
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.