The award-winning novel of a young American girl in France—hailed as “an impressive debut” that is “written with quiet, lyric forcefulness” (Elle).
A New York Times Notable Book
Young, inexperienced, and fleeing a terrible personal loss, Rosie—the new au pair to the Tivot family estate in France—finds herself ill at ease when trying to connect with Nicole, the cool, distant, and beautifully polished mother of the three children she cares for. There is something about the woman that both fascinates and unnerves Rosie.
The same is true of the rest of the Tivot clan. Nicole’s dissatisfied husband, Marc, and their children all seem to be caught in an unending struggle against each other for love and acceptance. Only when Rosie is sent to care for Nicole’s now-elderly guardian—the storyteller of the family’s secrets—does she finally discover the truth. There, Rosie will learn of a past darkened by war, duplicity, and a tragedy that still resonates in the Tivot’s lives . . .
With this novel of family, betrayal, and the naïveté of youth, Lily King has spun a story that is “powerful . . . splendid . . . [and all] so assured that it’s hard to believe the book itself is her debut” (The New York Times Book Review).
“Expertly constructed, full of surprises, superbly paced and sweetly sad, King’s book hardly reads like a first novel.” —Publishers Weekly
A year in France brings a young American new reserves of sympathy and maturity in this poised, accomplished first novel. Nineteen-year-old Rosie, King's sensitive narrator, arrives in Paris on the first day of the school year, set for her job as the Tivot family's au pair. The other au pairs (in French usage, filles) are cosmopolitan students drawn to French culture. Rosie, however, has come here to flee her past: she became pregnant as a deliberate act of charity, giving up her baby so her infertile sister could have a child. But that decision has only heightened her omnipresent sense of loss. Her months with the Tivot family on their houseboat bring her new and difficult human connections: to the inquisitive, needy 12-year-old Lola and her younger brother, Guillaume; to their unhappy, astringent mother, Nicole; and to their father, Marc, with whom the reserved Rosie gradually falls in love. After Lola catches Rosie and Marc holding hands on a family trip to Spain, Rosie is sent to a small town in Provence to care for Nicole's Aunt Lucie, in her 90s. In chapters interspersed with Rosie's own story, Aunt Lucie fills in the background of Nicole's family, a grim account of inheritance and treachery during WWII. Expertly constructed, full of surprises, superbly paced and sweetly sad, King's book hardly reads like a first novel; her skilled observation and careful narrative voice prevent the wartime plot from seeming sensational, and keeps Rosie's saga of melodrama. In fact, the seamless integration of theme, plot and voice produces a rare sense of intimacy. Rosie's final discoveries about France, about families and about herself through Lucie, Lola and Nicole take her on an inward journey readers will feel privileged to share.
Beautiful writing but uneventful and anti-climactic.
Too many words to say nothing