Le Mariage

Diane Johnson, Author Dutton Books $23.95 (322p) ISBN 978-0-525-94518-5
Even more knowing and perceptive than Le Divorce, Johnson's second novel about American expatriates in France is another wickedly clever comedy of manners. Her amused irony infuses this story of two romantic relationships. Good-natured Tim Nolinger, an easygoing journalist of mixed American and Belgian ancestry, is engaged to adorable Anne-Sophie d'Arget, who runs a boutique selling equestrian memorabilia in the Paris flea market. When Tim pursues a story about a stolen medieval manuscript called the Driad Apocalypse, their lives intersect with those of a former American film star, Clara Holly, and her husband, famous and reclusive director Serge Cray, who live in a ch teau in the suburbs of Paris. Peripheral characters include Anne-Sophie's mother, a cynical Parisienne novelist whose romance novels contain platitudinous advice about love that her daughter takes seriously; various members of the American community in Paris; the villagers of Etang-la-reine, who resent the rich property owners from the States and whose anger about the loss of their hunting rights triggers a plot against the Crays; two visitors from Clara's hometown in Oregon, and the members of a millennium cult there, who are pivotal in the drama of the purloined papers. What will be even more satisfying to Johnson's fans is the appearance of a character from Le Divorce, the dashing Antoine de Persand. In six degrees of separation, everybody is connected, yet the coincidences are artfully managed. Johnson's crisp manipulation of the engagingly convoluted plot is rooted in her central theme of French misconceptions about Americans, and vice versa. As exemplified by Holly and Cray, even those who share the same culture habitually fail to estimate the other accurately. Johnson's barbs are sophisticated and sharp, her amused irony is easily maintained, and her finesse at narrative is as fine tuned as her cultural sensitivity and her instincts about human behavior. As the novel ends, it is not surprising that le mariage of Anne-Sophie and Tim seems doomed by misunderstandings, but an adulterous liaison between two other characters conveys the mesmerizing passion of true love. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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