Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review: Mademoiselle Benoir by Christine Conrad

American Tim Reinhart, a former math professor, moves to France to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming an artist. In addition to renovating his somewhat ramshackle farmhouse in the South of France, he also meets an aristorcratic French woman almost two decades his senior with whom he falls in love. An epistolary novel this is mostly the story of Tim and Catherine as they negotiate the waters of love and marriage in France despite her disapproving relatives and the arcane laws apparently designed to keep them from marrying. The letters are for the most part between Tim and his mother and sister with a few between Catherine and her sisters and other assorted people caught in the web created by this unconventional marriage.

The premise is charming but the execution didn't live up to my expectations. There was something a bit off in the voices in the letters here, making the characters not as likable as they should have been. In addition, this falls into the pitfall of many epistolary novels in that it is heavy on explanation, as would be expected in correspondance with someone removed from the situation, but it seems unnecessarily heavy-handed here. On the plus side, there is a lot of interesting information about French inheritance law, how marriages take place (or are prevented) in France, and general information about the country and its people. The love between Tim and Catherine is sweet, if a bit underrepresented in the letters and their quest to marry starts to take on a farcical aspect. As to Tim being an artist, there's little enough here, with the personal taking over the professional just about completely. Ultimately there's not much plot to this novel and the characterizations are thin but it is a quick and easy, feel good sort of read for those times when something like this is needed.

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