The Pleasing Hour

Lily King

Published by Grove Press
ISBN 10: 0802143741 / ISBN 13: 9780802143747
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Synopsis: Lily King’s highly acclaimed, award-winning debut novel is the story of Rosie, an American au pair in Paris whose coming of age defies all our usual conceptions of naïveté and experience. Rosie is fleeing an unspeakable loss that has left her homesick for her family. As she awkwardly grasps for the words to communicate with and connect to Nicole, the cool, distant, and beautifully polished mother of the three children she cares for, Rosie’s bond with the patriarch of the household develops almost too naturally. When Lola, the middle child, begins to suspect an indecent intimacy between Rosie and her father, Rosie moves to the south of France to care for Nicole’s elderly guardian, the storyteller of the family’s secrets. There, she discovers a past darkened by war and duplicity, and finally comes to understand the tragedy behind Nicole’s elusive demeanor.

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: Grove Press
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: GOOD

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