The Suitors / Cécile David-Weill; translated from the French by Linda Coverdale.
New York: Other Press, c2012.
This was a book I picked up from my library shelves during August's Women in Translation month reading project. I've just finished it, and have to say that it wasn't my favourite read though there were some highlights to it.
One of those is definitely this cover. That's what caught my eye originally -- the lovely green (the tone doesn't quite come through onscreen, trust me, it's so Martha Stewart celery colour) and the perfect capture of the sense of the book in the cover image.
The book is set at L'Agapanthe, a country house owned by a rich French family. And no nouveau riche to be found, this is a family of riches ancien. And they are certainly snobby enough for the reader to believe it!
Two middle-aged sisters, Laure & Marie, discover that their rich and yet somehow unworldly parents are going to sell L'Agapanthe, the summer home of their youth. They panic, knowing they don't want it sold, but unsure how they will be able to afford this Grand Maison on their own. A family friend comes up with an idea: they should marry rich husbands to cover the upkeep.
While this is a satiric, ostensibly humorous story of longing and nostalgia and light amusement, it comes to feel more like a long and rather dreary monologue by Laure, a psychologist, as she talks about the "right" way to do things: how to behave at a country house, the kind of guests who know how to manage servants and the gauche guests who misstep, the tawdry Russian oligarch neighbours, the difficulty of finding butlers who know what they're doing, and so on. Each of the "suitors" that the sisters carefully invite to L'Agapanthe each weekend have issues; not rich enough, not suave enough, not at the right social level, etc. It's an insider view of high society of the old style, but this in itself is rather offputting.
It just comes across as a tale of snobby class distinctions drawn by a character who is very un-self-aware despite her frequent mentions about her career as a psychologist. In the end, they don't find appropriate suitors and they don't save L'Agapanthe, leaving the reader to wonder what the point of all this was. No increase in self knowledge is evident, and they seem to just shrug their shoulders and move on. There is a sense of ennui in their life story as told here. Very French, I suppose. Although I do love the word "L'Agapanthe", and the actual house was a lovely element. I just needed less detachment and more emotional connection to it by the sisters to really buy in to this story.