While I was in Las Vegas for Christmas, my father gave me a paperback copy of the novel Le Divorce, which he had just finished reading. He said the main character–a young woman who has recently relocated from California to Paris– reminded him a bit of me. My sister wondered why our dad was reading chick-lit, because the book was later turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson.
Central to the story of this 1997 novel is the narrator/protagonist Isabel Walker, an early-twenty-something who has recently dropped out of film school at USC. Without anything else on her agenda, Isabel travels to Paris to help her older step-sister, Roxy, prepare for the birth of her second child. However, when Isabel arrives, she learns that Roxy’s French husband has just left her for a Czech woman. As the story unfolds, a pending divorce is in the works, which involves complicated French property laws, including what to do with a potentially expensive painting. Meanwhile, Isabel learns to adapt to a new culture, obtaining a handful of odd jobs through the local American expat community and entering into a love affair with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
At first I had a hard time liking Isabel. She seemed too privileged, immature and ignorant of her surroundings. But around page 100, my attitude changed, and I could relate with her character quite a bit. Isabel is a true “live in moment” type of person, soaking up her current surroundings while not giving much thought to future plans. This paves the way for her flexibility to follow new adventures that may pop up, such as moving to France in the first place, and then contemplating a move to Sarajevo to volunteer with a charitable organization. She also likes to read and reference classic books, such as the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway, to give the impression that she really is smart.
Author Diane Johnson does such a good job of portraying the mindset of a woman in her early twenties, that I was surprised to learn that she was in her sixties when she wrote the book. Despite much of the book being about the fate of the above-mentioned painting and love affair, and the book being more character-driven than plot-driven, there are a few suspenseful plot twists. Overall, the book is written in a light, comic style, with a plethora of social commentary worked in — especially the differences between the cultures and viewpoints of French nationals and American expats, despite however hard the American expats try to fit in with their new society.