The Pleasing Hour

Lily King, Author
Lily King, Author Atlantic Monthly Press $24 (237p) ISBN 978-0-87113-754-8
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-7432-0164-3
Prebound-Other - 237 pages - 978-0-613-36605-2
Paperback - 237 pages - 978-0-8021-4374-7
Hardcover - 276 pages - 978-1-86049-719-3
Hardcover - 276 pages - 978-1-86049-780-3
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4498-7910-5
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A year in France brings a young American new reserves of sympathy and maturity in this poised, accomplished first novel. Nineteen-year-old Rosie, King's sensitive narrator, arrives in Paris on the first day of the school year, set for her job as the Tivot family's au pair. The other au pairs (in French usage, filles) are cosmopolitan students drawn to French culture. Rosie, however, has come here to flee her past: she became pregnant as a deliberate act of charity, giving up her baby so her infertile sister could have a child. But that decision has only heightened her omnipresent sense of loss. Her months with the Tivot family on their houseboat bring her new and difficult human connections: to the inquisitive, needy 12-year-old Lola and her younger brother, Guillaume; to their unhappy, astringent mother, Nicole; and to their father, Marc, with whom the reserved Rosie gradually falls in love. After Lola catches Rosie and Marc holding hands on a family trip to Spain, Rosie is sent to a small town in Provence to care for Nicole's Aunt Lucie, in her 90s. In chapters interspersed with Rosie's own story, Aunt Lucie fills in the background of Nicole's family, a grim account of inheritance and treachery during WWII. Expertly constructed, full of surprises, superbly paced and sweetly sad, King's book hardly reads like a first novel; her skilled observation and careful narrative voice prevent the wartime plot from seeming sensational, and keeps Rosie's saga of melodrama. In fact, the seamless integration of theme, plot and voice produces a rare sense of intimacy. Rosie's final discoveries about France, about families and about herself through Lucie, Lola and Nicole take her on an inward journey readers will feel privileged to share. (Sept.)
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