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by Christine Conrad

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 2006
ISBN: 0-618-57479-4
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

A May/September love story set in contemporary rural France, based on actual events.

Tim Reinhart, a professor in New York, decides to relocate to the French countryside, buying a run-down old house in under-populated Midi. Explanations for the move include the desire to paint and to enjoy “an authentic life,” yet neither is convincingly rendered. The book’s epistolary form does not help, layering artifice and formality over the simple business of narration. Nor do Tim’s initial, formulaic experiences: Comparable to those found in A Year in Provence and other travelogues, they include home improvements, touristy excursions and attempts to get cozy with suspicious, sometimes comic locals. Conrad (Jerome Robbins, 2000) adds a moody French girlfriend, Marcelline, some sketching and a growing appreciation of French gastronomy, and then introduces a highborn local family, the Benoirs, who offer Tim superior hospitality at their decaying yet beautiful chateau. Now the novel shifts gears, focusing more closely on tradition, family and some of France’s more calcified social aspects. Catherine Benoir, 20 years older, an artist, and Catholic, becomes Tim’s valued confidante, especially when relations with Marcelline go awry. The two fall in love and, given the prudery of French provincial life, decide to get married. Tim’s mother’s subsequent skepticism is nothing compared to the mouth-foaming fury of Catherine’s sister Pauline, who calls Tim the Devil, claims that Catherine is suffering from Alzheimer’s and writes to the pope. Romantic cliché gives way to another vision of the country—bureaucratic and stiff with hidebound conventions—as Catherine and Tim struggle to persuade the civil and religious authorities to permit their wedding.

A love letter to la belle France in the form of a lumpy romance.