Andrew Solomon: By the Book

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” I loved Cécile David-Weill’s “Suitors,” a charming comedy of manners set at a country estate in the South of France, apparently one of the few places in the world where anyone still has enough manners to make a comedy about.”

Published: September 26, 2013

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20somthingreads — The Suitors by Cécile David-Weill

20130515-030830.jpgA comedy of manners that serves as an insightful look at the lives of those in the upper classes.

After two sisters, Laure and Marie, learn of their parents’ plan to sell the family’s summer retreat, L’Agapanthe, they devise a scheme for attracting a wealthy suitor who can afford to purchase the estate. Selling it would mean more than just losing a place to go during the summer — for the sisters, it’s become a necessary part of their character, their lifestyle, and their past.

L’Agapanthe, a place of charm and nostalgia, is the perfect venue to exercise proper etiquette and intellect, though not all its visitors are socially savvy, especially when it’s a matter of understanding the relationships between old money and the nouveau riche. The comedy of manners begins: with stock traders, yogis, fashion designers, models, swindlers, the Mafia, and a number of celebrity guests.

Laure — the witty, disarming, and poignant narrator — guides the reader through elegant dinners, midnight swims in the bay, and conversations about current events, literature, art and cinema. THE SUITORS is an amusing insider’s look at the codes, manners and morals of French high society.

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The Suitors by Cécile David-Weill

In THE SUITORS, fans of “Downton Abbey” will find a familiar topic: an impressive modern estate held by a super-elite French bourgeoisie family who live an old-world life (upheld, of course, by a large collection of “servants” whose sole purpose is to entertain “guests of great importance”). This satire focuses on a super-elite class with unique social etiquette, manners and charms, all centered on having “old money,” the narrator being a descendent of the French aristocracy. The family estate about which author Cécile David-Weill writes is L’Agapanthe, located in the Cote d’Azur. The social edicts she presents are initially familiar, but then the book goes on to reveal the lesser-known realities for these elite families with expensive historical properties.

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Overall the novel comes off as a lively “comedy of manners” — quaint, traditional, occasionally serious and intrusive, but in the end, highly socially critical. Laure, the narrator, describes her years at L’Agapanthe as formal and stuffy, living with her parents and sister, Marie, while they entertained strangers almost continually. Somehow L’Agapanthe was a place they all seemed to love and simultaneously resent for what it was.

In THE SUITORS, fans of “Downton Abbey” will find a familiar topic: an impressive modern estate held by a super-elite French bourgeoisie family who live an old-world life (upheld, of course, by a large collection of “servants” whose sole purpose is to entertain “guests of great importance”). This satire focuses on a super-elite class with unique social etiquette, manners and charms, all centered on having “old money,” the narrator being a descendent of the French aristocracy. The family estate about which author Cécile David-Weill writes is L’Agapanthe, located in the Cote d’Azur. The social edicts she presents are initially familiar, but then the book goes on to reveal the lesser-known realities for these elite families with expensive historical properties.

Overall the novel comes off as a lively “comedy of manners” — quaint, traditional, occasionally serious and intrusive, but in the end, highly socially critical. Laure, the narrator, describes her years at L’Agapanthe as formal and stuffy, living with her parents and sister, Marie, while they entertained strangers almost continually. Somehow L’Agapanthe was a place they all seemed to love and simultaneously resent for what it was.

“THE SUITORS is an eccentric, humorous novel that many readers should enjoy. I loved reading about all the social edicts and rigid etiquette of the French elite.”
As an aristocrat, Laure describes experiencing a sense of real belonging to the land and the preserved beauty of her home, yet at the same time, realizing her family’s traditions force them into upholding rigid ideologies and expectations of everyone. These include absolute obedience to perfection of appearance, manners and behavior, and resulted frequently in a tendency for them all to form strict moral and social judgments, directed most often at their house guests. The harsh opinions voiced by Laure illustrate David-Weill’s point in writing the book. To the reader, these judgments might seem based upon very slight breaches of etiquette, but through her narrator, the author reveals these kinds of things are interpreted by French aristocrats as major blunders and highly rude behavior. Americans reportedly take the cake.

Large sections of the plot focus on these little delicate social nuances surrounding stuffy, formal events — weekends and dinners planned down to the slightest, most exquisite detail, having gathered guests through formal invitation to strangers around the world and bringing in movie stars, artists, scientists, world-class businessmen, socialite wannabes, and others of fame (most of whom are unfamiliar to me, but with huge names also appearing on the roster). Ordinary folks seem below the notice of a place like L’Agapanthe, which appears to have its own life. “New money” is despised there. The many servants of the house are respected but ignored pointedly; this approach is something Laure defends and explains directly and thoroughly. Although fascinating, it is certainly a point of view that lacks modern perspective (which really seems to be the point).

Laure formed these superficial acquaintance-type relationships through her personal devotion toward celebrating the traditions of the elite upper class. She describes an odd dedication toward preserving her home and philosophies that they all knew were bound to die out eventually; they were determined to fight it. Much of her personal insights and etiquette seem directed at preventing any evolution. But L’Agapanthe’s sole function had become to entertain other elites; hardly the best use for such a place in the modern world.

Laure describes the complexity of her feelings for her home and legacy of her life there. Once her parents declare their intentions to put the estate on the market (for reasons both financial and practical), she and her sister attempt to save the day by going “husband hunting” — which is where the book gets really interesting, as several romances play out here. The line of reasoning of these sisters is refreshingly honest and instinctive: They are so constantly surrounded by the ultra-rich and famous, why not play the “oldest game in history” and capitalize on their own value and virtues as women, in order to save their home? This is a great twist.

Though the life and thoughts of the narrator may come off as foreign and stuffy to some, THE SUITORS is an eccentric, humorous novel that many readers should enjoy. I loved reading about all the social edicts and rigid etiquette of the French elite. Though life at L’Agapanthe is certainly difficult to relate to, this story makes for an interesting reading experience and a great escape to do some “people watching.”

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on March 22, 2013

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Cécile David-Weill, The Suitors | Clocktower Gallery & Radio | ARTonAIR.org

Artonair.org CDW The Suito

French-American novelist Cécile David-Weill reads from her latest book, The Suitorsat Manhattan’s 192 Books. The event took place on March 5, 2013.

The Suitors is a comedy of manners that serves as an insightful look at the lives of those in the upper classes. Two sisters, Laure and Marie, learn of their parents’ plan to sell the family’s summer retreat, L’Agapanthe, they devise a scheme for attracting a wealthy suitor who can afford to purchase the estate. Selling it would mean more than just losing a place to go during the summer—for the sisters, it’s become a necessary part of their character, their lifestyle, and their past. Laure—the witty, disarming, and poignant narrator—guides the reader through elegant dinners, midnight swims in the bay, and conversations about current events, literature, art, and cinema. The Suitors is an amusing insider’s look at the codes, manners, and morals of French high society.

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Book of the Week: The Suitors

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Cécile David-Weill’s witty new comedy of manners dives into the rarefied world of the French beau monde. In it, sisters Laure and Marie attempt to save the family’s summer retreat on the Côte d’Azur by luring a billionaire suitor. We chatted with the French-American author about that privileged world. Plus, she shared her tips on etiquette, entertaining and navigating the French and Stateside cultural divide.

What inspired the book?

My goal was to talk about family houses. There’s a tradition of talking about them — movies like Gosford Park andLa Règle du Jeu or that TV series, Upstairs Downstairs. A lot of people have family houses, which seemed to me a very interesting microcosm where you can evoke childhood and culture at the same time.

Do you have a family house?

Yes, and it’s in the south of France, not that far from the one I’m describing in the book. These houses go back generations and are part of a time that’s different than the one you’re living in. And that dictates how you live there. Ours was built in the Thirties, which implied a way of living in the Thirties. The house never changes, but everything else does — the owners, the decoration, the staff, the people. That house goes on like an old lady who doesn’t notice that everything around her has changed; she’s totally out of it. That’s what I wanted to talk about.

Does the narrator, Laure, take after you?

You always put something of yourself in characters, even the worst characters, so of course there is some of me in Laure. But it’s not at all biographical; the only true part is the feeling of the house. The nice thing about writing a novel is that you can play the “What If” thing. What if I was young? What if I was beautiful? What if I was a stupid guy?

Much of the book deals with nostalgia. What are you nostalgic for?

Time — that there’s no time anymore for things that are of no use. Like conversation. Or just having a coffee. Or daydreaming. Nowadays, people even make their spare time useful, like to go to the gym. The unexpected comes from something not scheduled.

Who are your literary influences?

Marcel Proust, of course. Guy de Maupassant for short stories. Gustave Flaubert for style. And, for The Suitors, Nancy Mitford.

What’s your version of the Proust madeleine?

There’s a smell that used to be in that family house, in the elevator. It’s like mold and pipes — it’s not a very nice smell — but it’s a smell that reminds me of childhood and of that house. I’ll find it sometimes in places that are really weird and not very nice, like cellars or corridors, but I could stay there for hours.

There are a lot of dinner scenes in the book, complete with seating charts.
Do you have any tips on seating to share?

The best is to forget about the way it’s supposed to be done, except if you’re having dinner with Obama or someone who would be offended not to be on your right side. Otherwise, just put one talkative person next to one who isn’t, and don’t have all the fun people at the same part of the table. It’s like cooking — a bit of salt here, a little pepper there….

And to keep the conversation lively?

In my book, when the dinner conversation gets so bad that nobody’s saying anything, one of my characters says, “I’ve never been to Venice.” Then everybody goes, “What?! You’ve never been to Venice?!” because it’s so unlikely. So anything unlikely that can create a kind of reaction is good. And ask questions; people like to talk about themselves. But ask trivial questions. Don’t ask about what work they do. It’s better to talk about something that’s not related to your life because these dinners are supposed to be a parenthesis of life.

Since etiquette and customs are another theme in the book…
any advice for Americans in France?

Don’t say too much too quickly. I find that Americans confide very easily and quickly; French people don’t do that. Americans talk in restaurants from table to table, saying they’re here on their honeymoon or something. French people are not that open. I’ll give you an example of the reverse. When I came over to New York from Paris, I was in an elevator once and the person next to me started talking: “Oh, it’s a nice day, it feels like a Monday, but it’s Tuesday….” I thought, “My God, what does he want from me? Is he going to rob me?” It didn’t occur to me that he was just talking.

Words to avoid?

Saying enchanté is a no-no. The same with bon appétit. That doesn’t mean I believe it’s bad; it’s just that in the particular world I describe in my book, which is maybe three thousand people in France, you can’t say those two things. If you were to go to Élysée Palace, though, you wouldn’t say them either.

What about vice versa? Advice for Parisians coming to the U.S.?

Americans are not judgmental. French people usually talk in judgmental sentences and, here, people just feel it is mean. So I would tell them not to try to impress by exerting their judgment that way. Another thing I would tell them is that American people are so enthusiastic that if you just say, “Yes, I’m happy,” you seem like you’re not. You have to say, “I’m thrilled! I’m absolutely over the moon!” and then people will believe you. It’s like in music — you have to be one note higher than you usually are.

 WED, APRIL 24, 2013
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Libraires, vous êtes sauvés !

L’Espresso Book Machine permet aux libraires de fabriquer en quelques minutes le livre que recherche leur client. New York est déjà conquise !

L’Espresso Book Machine dans une librairie de Londres. © Leon Neal / AFP

Sans doute n’avez-vous jamais entendu parler de l’Espresso Book Machine. Il se pourrait pourtant qu’elle permette aux libraires de résister à la vente de livres en ligne. Et le moins que l’on puisse dire est que ce ne serait pas du luxe, car le constat des libraires aujourd’hui est navrant. Les gens viennent chez eux pour flâner et regarder les livres, mais ils les commandent en ligne s’ils ne trouvent pas ce qu’ils veulent, se détournant ainsi, et souvent définitivement, des librairies. Or les sites de vente en ligne ont un talon d’Achille : ils mettent au moins deux jours à faire parvenir une commande, et parfois plus dans le cas de livres rares ou épuisés. Et c’est là où l’Espresso Book Machine pourrait leur couper l’herbe sous les pieds. (read more)

Click here for English translation

Le Point.fr – Publié le 24/03/2013 à 09:32

 

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7 Dreamy Novels Set in the Most Romantic City in the World

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Stroll down the Champs-Elysées, smell the delicious scent of fresh croissants, marvel at the city’s famous skyline—and the best part—on these journeys you’ll never have to say “au revoir.”

Publication date: February 26th, 2013

Publication date: February 26th, 2013

The Suitors
By Cecile David-Weill
432 pages; Other Press
Available at: Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | iBookstore | IndieBound
If you’ve ever wondered what Downton Abbey would be like if it were set in the South of France during our current century, then pick up this smart novel de charme immediately. Brainy, witty and well-divorced Laure Ettinguer and her sister Marie have spent every summer of their lives at their family’s summer estate in Cap D’Antibes, where they “bloomed like those Japanese paper flowers that unfold their petals in water.” Agapanthe, like other bonnes maisons of its caliber, is a house run like a discrete, lavish hotel for a select group of invited friends and acquaintances that range from Martha Stewart and Cabinet ministers to the occasional world-famous artist. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming expense of running such a place, Laure’s parents decide to put it up for sale. Crushed, Laure and Marie hatch a plot to seduce a billionaire (there are quite few running around), who will either pay for the manse or so horrify their parents with his nouveau riche ways that they’ll take Agapanthe off the market immediately. The intimate, fascinating detail with which Cécile David-Weill describes this society—complete with seating charts and chauffeur pick-up schedules—is what elevates this book from a mere romp through old-money families of France into an intelligent, engaging study of a society that seems as if it should be extinct by now. When a first-time guest arrives, for example, and proclaims he’s “delighted” to be there, Laure dissects this unexpected breech of etiquette for a full page while admitting that “managing to make so many gaffs into one greeting was in fact a kind of triumph.” It’s her wry, intelligent approach to this life that keeps you gobbling up the story to the last page, both appalled that humans really live this way and seduced by visions of luncheons on sun-drenched loggias overlooking the sea, drinking champagne from a glass…but not a flute (a word that is “a massive no-no” in French haute society, for reasons too wonderfully elegant to make any sense).
— Leigh Newman
 
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