The Pleasing Hour

King, Lily

Published by Touchstone
ISBN 10: 0743201647 / ISBN 13: 9780743201643
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Synopsis: The first novel from a new literary voice brimming with sensitivity and lyricism, The Pleasing Hour is the story of an American in Europe whose coming-of-age defies all our usual conceptions of naivete and experience. Fleeing a devastating loss, Rosie takes a job as an au pair with a Parisian family and soon finds the comfort and intimacy she longs for with their children and the father, Marc. Only Nicole, the children's distant, impeccably polished mother, is unwilling to embrace the young American. But when Rosie realizes that her attachments have become transgressions, she leaves for the south of France. There she learns about Nicole's own haunted past and the losses that link the two women more closely than either could have imagined.

Review: The act of writing a first novel has a lot in common with being an au pair. Each is often accomplished by a young, overeducated woman who believes she is the center of the universe. This can make for dull reading, and sometimes for unattended children falling down staircases. But Lily King's fine first novel--about an au pair--neatly avoids the solipsism that often plagues coming-of-age stories. In The Pleasing Hour, 19-year-old Rosie has fled New Hampshire for France after undergoing an anguishing loss: she surrendered her newborn son to her infertile, married sister. Rosie is literally hollowed out, unable to see beyond her own pain. "Nothing in my body felt right. It seemed to be ringing with pain but there was no part of me that I could point to and tell her, Here, here's where it hurts."

In Paris she moves in with the Tivots: the unassuming, shambling father, Marc; the glamorous and unforgiving mother, Nicole; the beautiful daughter, Odile; the merry daughter, Lola; the momma's boy, Guillaume. Rosie steps into the highly polarized atmosphere of the Tivot household, unconsciously upsetting its equilibrium by throwing in her lot with Marc and Lola. And when the family heads off to Spain for vacation, the power balance shifts palpably, since Rosie is the only one who speaks Spanish. Even Nicole grudgingly admires her. What's more, Rosie notices Marc regarding her with the "relentless curiosity he'd had in his eye since we landed in Spain." On Mallorca, the two consummate their relationship, and the betrayal forces her to see beyond her own worries to the entrenched pains and allegiances of her host family.

King cleverly iterates this message in her narrative. She occasionally, deliberately, allows each member of the Tivot family to voice the story, and this opening-up of the narrative allows the world to flow into a novel whose themes might otherwise seem petty. In the end, the author doesn't perpetrate the dull crime of youthful self-involvement--she comments on it. We care for Rosie from the start, but we like her a lot more as she comes alive to the people around her. --Claire Dederer

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Title: The Pleasing Hour
Publisher: Touchstone
Binding: PAPERBACK
Book Condition: Fair

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