Book Review: Le Divorce

Le Divorce Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I thought this book was terrible, and that’s not something that I say lightly. I am generally able to find at least one redeeming part of a book: maybe I like the characters, or maybe the prose speaks to me, or maybe there was a plot twist that I particularly appreciate. There was nothing of the sort in Le Divorce.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

One would think that a story involving the illicit affair of a girl in her early twenties with a man in his seventies who is related to her through marriage, a mentally unstable spouse of a cheating wife who eventually shoots said wife and her lover, and the legal battle over a piece of artwork worth two million dollars would be a tantalizing page-turner. Unfortunately, this book – while utilizing all the mentioned plot twists – falls very, very short.

The main character, Isabel, is a mostly one-dimensional character. (The times that we are afforded glimpses of her inner workings, disappointingly, reveal her to be petty and, in my opinion, unlikeable.) Roxy, Isabel’s sister, is a much more believable (and sympathetic) character, and I think the story would have worked much better if it had been told from Roxy’s perspective. I, for one, would much rather read about the turmoil faced by a suicidal pregnant expat embroiled in a nasty divorce than the bland observations of a restless twentysomething who has a completely unrealistic (and boring) affair with an important elderly Frenchman.

The writing is flat and unengaging, often simply telling us things. In a move that I found infuriating, the author tends to switch to script-mode during scenes with lots of dialogue. The change is jarring, and I think it’s lazy. It also irritated me that, while Isabel was the narrator (the story is told from her first-person perspective), scenes appear in the book of which she would have no knowledge. (For example, she often tells about conversations her family has back in California. Isabel, in Paris, would have no way of knowing what was said during these conversations. She might have things related to her, but she couldn’t recount the conversations as though she was there.)

Finally, the ending was disappointing. I felt that if the author had taken twenty more pages, she could have appropriately wrapped up the porcelain theft and legal status of the painting storylines. I’m certainly not advocating that this book should have been longer (it was all I could do to finish the 309 pages it is without throwing it down in disgust), but, after investing all that time in it, I think I was cheated to have these plots left dangling.

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