Diane Johnson, two-time finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, a noted observer of our times, has written a sparkling contemporary novel on Americans abroad that is hilariously insightful.
When California girl Isabel Walker, film school dropout, comes to visit her stepsister Roxy in Paris, she arrives on the day that Roxy’s French husband, Charles-Henri de Persand, has left her for another woman. Roxy is distraught and pregnant. Charles-Henri’s powerful and prestigious French family is counseling patience and acceptance, Isabel is soon caught up in the romantic intrigue: and Roxy’s parents are just as soon on their way to France to lend their daughter support. Add to all of this a contretemps over a painting belonging to the Walkers but given by Roxy as a wedding gift to her husband, which turns out to be extremely valuable. It is, as the French say, a situation.
It is also the basis for a comedy of manners that looks with delicious wit at cultures and carnal desires in collision; at the absurd way in which love can lead us toward grand tragedy or, at least, toward jealous crimes of the heart. Le Divorceis a literary French treat, served with exquisite prose, superb plotting and much fun.
Diane Johnson updates the transatlantic novel so gorgeously rendered by Henry James, Edith Wharton, William Dean Howells, and Nathaniel Hawthorne; evokes the spirit of such expatriates sojourning in Paris as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and mines the pathos of modern fiction in creating this wonderful and important novel. Isabel Walker, eerily reminiscent of James’s Isabel Archer, is a young film-school dropout who travels to Paris to aid her stepsister, who is going through a divorce. Isabel’s California cool, American freedoms, and feminist slants comingle, successfully and fractiously, with the customs, biases, and complex sexuality of modern Europe. The result modulates between introspection and hilarity, and a quick, Hollywood-inspired sweep of violent action in the end doesn’t undermine the author’s mastery of Old World vs. New—in fact, it provides an ironic scrim.
Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) lights up the screen as Isabel, a film school dropout who jets off to Paris when her pregant step-sister Roxy (Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive) is abandoned by her husband. Soon, Isabel has a scandal of her own when she falls for an older man who’s related to Roxy’s cheating husband! Ths stylish romantic comedy by the acclaimed Merchant Ivory team (The Remains of the Day) features a top cast, including Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Matthew Modine and Bebe Newirth.