Times of London columnist Muir (The Insider’s Guide to Paris, 1999, etc.), in her U.S. debut, delivers a sharp, quietly feminist novel of manners.
To the world at large, 40-something Olivier and Madison Malin, the “Great Mind” and “Great Body,” respectively, of the Left Bank, have it all: intellect, beauty, health, riches. But their perfect life together takes a hairpin turn when their seven-year-old daughter disappears on a rare family excursion to PlayWorld Paris. From that moment, the shiny veneer of their bliss reveals itself to be as brittle as the caramelized gloss on a crème brulée. Olivier, a popular French philosopher and philandering gourmand, and Madison (née Ramswagger), a transplanted Texan model-turned-actress, for years have lived the public fantasy of reifying Sartre and de Beauvoir’s open partnership. When Olivier begins to dally with his daughter’s British nanny, however, the reality of how this plays out in private can no longer be ignored. Muir’s prose abounds with irony as she deftly explores the psychological dimensions of the powerful, self-absorbed parents’ relationship with their child. In a typically witty passage, Olivier fears his family will “win the Tolstoy prize for most varied and complicated unhappiness.” In another, a cheese purveyor is described with enough gastronomic acumen to set foodies salivating: “Barthélémy prided himself on timing his cheeses to go off, like a gooey bomb, at the exact point of consumption.” Sex and the City fans and francophiles alike will devour this feast of identity politics and character development.