Reviewed by Zoe Lea
It's 1989 and Kate is fresh out of university, full of ambition and looking for excitement. When she is offered a position in Paris as a personal assistant to the renowned photographer Lydia Schell, Kate is thrilled. Here is her chance to discover the artistic, intellectual and political circles of Paris… or so she thinks. Lydia Schell turns out to be the boss from hell, her job description is to do 'a little bit of everything' and that's what Kate ends up doing, from walking the dog to collecting dubious diet pills.
Even with her earnest enthusiasm, Kate struggles to be included in the social and professional whirl of Lydia and her history scholar husband and she slowly learns that if she is to thrive out there, she has to make life work on her own terms. She reacquaints herself with her cousin, Etienne, who she hasn't seen in years and begins to make friends of her own. As she becomes more confident, Kate realizes that she's caught up in various psychological games between Lydia and her family, and becomes involved in a web of lies and treachery. In order for her to have any sense of self, Kate must stand up for herself and decide who she is going to be.
I thought this book was well written, the narrative is sharply observant and Paris is described wonderfully. I also liked how it's littered with French quotes – Reyl holds a PhD in French Literature and with this novel it's been put to good use, the small French phrases giving it an overall authentic quality. I loved the developments with Kate – how she must learn the lessons of loyalty and how she reaches her authentic sense of self, as well as the love affair and complex relationships that evolve. The only downside to the book I found was that at times the prose could be overly descriptive. I felt that the language got in the way of the story in places, and this seemed to have a real impact on the pace, but overall a good read.
Hilary Reyl's Website