Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"The Suitors," by Cecile David-Weill

“The Suitors” (Other Press, 2012, originally published in French in 2009), by Cecile David-Weill, is so much fun! It is as light as a French meringue; it could practically float away. The reader needs to do nothing but sit back and enjoy it. This novel, translated from the French, is well written and delicious. It tells of two sisters who are dismayed that their parents plan to sell their beautiful summer house in the south of France. The sisters decide to invite various men to the house who may be candidates for a rich husband for one or the other of them, a husband who could then buy the house and preserve it in the family. But this flimsy, even half-hearted plot is merely an excuse for an extended paean to the house and to the very proper and very upper-class life and entertainment that the two daughters value and sentimentalize. The descriptions of the house, L’Agapanthe, and its surroundings and rituals are organized into chapters describing three consecutive weekends. For each weekend, there is a list of the characters (family, visitors, staff), the rooms where guests stay, the elaborate menus for each meal, the schedule for the weekend, and other relevant information. These beautifully ornate lists (just one feature of the aesthetically pleasing format and production of this book) are useful, but also serve to make concrete the extensive planning and traditions that accompany these weekends, invitations to which are most prized. As I said, this novel is mostly frou-frou; one doesn’t get the sense that the stakes are very high for anyone, and that makes the novel untaxing and enjoyable to read. The one serious note, one that I could relate to (on an entirely different scale!), was the attachment of the family to a summer home and all it symbolizes for them. There is something so family-oriented, so memory-making, about vacation places where it seems that all is right with the world. In my family’s case, the place was a humble summer cottage (probably a twentieth the size of L’Agapanthe!) on a beautiful lake in northern Michigan, one where the family gathered every summer in various combinations, and one where I went for a couple of weeks almost every summer even long after I moved to California, as did most of the family. My parents themselves had moved to California, but they kept the cottage for many years afterward. I loved that my daughter spent idyllic time there with her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, as well as the neighbors’ grandkids, every summer. Both kids and adults swam, went out on the boat, took excursions, ate the wonderful summer fruits and vegetables (and fudge!) of Northern Michigan, played, read, talked, lay in the sun, took day trips, and generally had a lovely time. I thank my parents for having this cottage and for welcoming us there every summer.

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