Le Mariage

ISBN 13: 9780099590040

Le Mariage

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9780099590040: Le Mariage

A sparkling new novel-a comedy of manners from the author of Le Divorce, an acclaimed national bestseller and 1997 National Book Award finalist

Many have compared Diane Johnson to such great literary figures as Jane Austen, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald-all expatriate writers who in one way or another contributed to the development of the "international novel." Johnson puts a contemporary twist on this venerable form with her keen-eye portraits of modern-day Americans living abroad.

In Le Mariage, as in Le Divorce, she masterly portrays Paris-both its outward splendor and its secret inner workings. Le Mariage introduces a proper young French woman engaged to a struggling American journalist hot on the trail of a breaking story: the theft of a valuable illuminated manuscript from a collection in New York, which rumor has it may have found its surreptitious way into the hands of a reclusive film director living on the outskirts of Paris. The director's wife, an American beauty and former actress, enters a Kafkaesque nightmare as she finds herself wrongly accused of desecrating a national monument. Johnson's clever plot and delightful characters are to be savored, but Le Mariage also offers brilliant insights into relationships between men and women; marriage and morality as it is perceived on both sides of the Atlantic; and the chaos that ensues when well-off, well-meaning people attempt to give something back to an imperfect world that has been so unaccountably good to them. Le Mariage is Diane Johnson at her very best.

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Review:

In the delicious Le Divorce, Diane Johnson's heroine dipped her American toe into the unfathomably deep waters of French culture. In Johnson's follow-up, Le Mariage, we plunge right in and swim among American expatriates and French high society types as they try to navigate relationships with one another. The novel makes references, both overt and oblique, to one of the great achievements of French culture, Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game, a film that steps lightly between farce and tragedy. Le Mariage does the same.

The story centers, like Anna Karenina, around two couples. Anne-Sophie, a bon chic, bon genre Parisienne who sells equestrian-themed antiques at the flea market, is engaged to Tim, an American journalist, "one of those large pink-cheeked rugby-player types." Clara, also an American, is a film actress married to her director, the brilliant Serge Cray. The two lead a reclusive life on the outskirts of Paris until their serenity is broken by a couple of events: following a well-publicized murder, a couple of American tourists drop in on the Crays and won't leave; and Clara is arrested for desecrating a national monument, when all she was trying to do was decorate her house.

These various settings--the flea market, the director's chateau, even the jail--allow Johnson ample room for the kind of Francophile fieldwork for which she is so justly famed. The engaged couple in particular provide lots of scope for details of Paris life: "One particular day, Tim suddenly knew he had found their apartment, on the Passage de la Visitation--the name itself so charming, the arrondissement so correct.... His heart lifted with the optimistic sense of the future that only real estate can bring." Minor characters abound, such as Anne-Sophie's mother, who writes the sort of hilariously intellectual dirty novels only the French can produce. Johnson delights in identifying such types, and sends them up with relish.

As in Le Divorce, Johnson delivers a trumped-up ending--this time at the Crays' chateau, where the rehearsal dinner for Anne-Sophie and Tim's wedding turns into a genteel French shootout--or, rather, standoff. The author has earned her finale this time, though. At the beginning, she asks the question that haunts all innocents-abroad novels: "Perhaps there are no natural contradictions between the French landscape and the Americans who inhabit it so diffidently, but it often seems that Americans would do well to stay out of what we do not understand. Or is it we who bring the harm?" This time, more explicitly than ever, Diane Johnson makes her answer an emphatic yes. And in doing so, she lays claim to the legacy of Henry James that has been linked with her name since Le Divorce. --Claire Dederer

About the Author:

Diane Johnson is an American-born novelist and essayist. A two-time finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in three different genresessay, biography,and fictionshe isthe author of the bestselling novel Le Divorce, a 1997 National Book Award finalist, as well as twelve other books, including the novels Persian Nights, Health and Happiness, Lying Low, The Shadow Knows, and Burning (all available in Plume editions). She is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and splits her time between San Francisco and Paris.

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