After my amazing luck with John Boyne’s The Absolutist last year, I decided to always keep an eye on Other Press releases and I’m glad I did. I requested a copy of this book directly from the publisher and I quite enjoyed it. This is my honest response and I received nothing in return.
To start, I’d like to say that the only other review on Goodreads is worthless (to me, at least). Why bother reviewing a book if that’s all you’re going to say? The person has, in essence, re-written the synopsis of the novel (on the back cover), without any additional insight or synthesis and it came across as snide to me. If you didn’t want to read “frothy froth about rich French people and their angst,” then why’d you read it? It never pretended to be anything else and that’s why I appreciated this novel. It’s times like this when I wish I could give half stars on Goodreads because it’s not quite what I would consider 5 stars, but not quite as low as 4 stars. Now on to my response.
This novel is everything that it claims to be, an amusing inside look at the codes, manners, and morals of high society, and it’s nothing more.So if you don’t want to read a comedy of manners, then don’t. It’s sort of what I imagine Austen’s works were like when they were first published and reactions were similar to the Goodreads reviewer’s.
Now don’t get me wrong, Austen is in a league of her own, but I felt David-Weill did a great jog overall and held her own in ‘high society’ literature. Although the language wasn’t as beautiful, I thought of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I need to reread) and I don’t think you’d be too far a miss to compare the two. In addition I appreciated that the story was broken up based on days and meals and that menus (and recipes!) were included. I love a book that mentions a lot of food and then includes the recipes, a la Frances Mayes.
I worried going into the novel that I wouldn’t appreciate this book as the majority of the high society and comedy of manners novels I read are at least 100 years old. However, I did enjoy it and appreciated David-Weill’s witticisms and observations such as the following,
“Knowing people can mean so many things. It’s like books: there are plenty of gradations between the books one has read and those one hasn’t. There are the books one has heard of, those with a plot or style we already know by heart, those we can tell by their cover, those whose jacket copy we’ve read. Those we want to read and those we never will. One can also read a book and forget it—in fact, that’s my specialty—or just skim through it. It’s the same way with people.” (29)
This isn’t the first time I’ve read a comparison of people to books, but this is one of the better explained versions.
What I was most worried about was the celebrity/celebutant culture overtaking the high society culture, but thankfully it didn’t. The narrator, Laure, had a distinct voice and I thought provided great observations of how she grew up (and lives) with the new money celebrities and business men without coming across as hoity-toity.
There were two things I didn’t really like about the novel, but they weren’t so much as to put me off completely from the novel. The ending was lack-luster and I felt just sort of dropped off even though it gave a bit of room for hope/romance. If David-Weill had left the last chapter without the ending thank you note thing it would’ve been a much stronger, seeming happier, ending.
In addition I struggled to identify with any characters other than Laure which was a bit problematic because there were some amazing minor characters that had so much potential! I completely understand that this is one summer in the many year’s of their lives, but the many minor characters were so transient that even those that were there all the time left me wanting more.
Recommendation: If you like high society novels or self-reflective works then you should definitely check this out. If you want a beach read, as that Goodreads reviewer says, you should also check this out. It’s a novel you can read as much, or as little, into it as you want.
Opening Line: “It was a Sunday like any other.”
Closing Line: “Which reminds me of Jean the gardener’s mower and rake, their sound track tolerated for its regular hours, like a mechanical angelus in the monastic order of lawns…” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Suitors
“I have always tried to be a decent person, with a code of ethics that drives me to improve and even perfect myself in every way, and I feel it is essential that everyone should have this same aspiration. At the same time, I feel equally strongly that religion, which I believe demands no creativity from its passive, obedient followers, appeals chiefly to imbeciles. In general as stultifying as television, religion, can nevertheless provide matter for reflection, on equal footing with philosophy and the other human sciences. Thanks to Jung, though, I still remained convinced that God—or fate—was nothing more than our unconscious.” (358-9)
“I thought about the end of a love affair, about how we make love with someone without realizing that it’s for the last time, because nothing tells us solemnly that this moment will never come again, a moment we often try in vain to recall later on, when the affair is over.” (393)