Sunday, February 28, 2016

Left Bank

By Kate Muir

Olivier and Madison are a Paris power couple with a young daughter, Sabine. Madison is a beautiful, tall movie star and Olivier is a famous author and philospher.
As a special treat for Sabine, they take her to an amusement park, something like the Paris Disneyland. Part of the reason for the treat is that Madison and Olivier have not been getting along well and little Sabine has been stressed because of all the tension in the home. But while waiting to go on a ride at the park, Madison and Olivier begin to argue and Sabine goes off on the ride by herself and vanishes.
Naturally, being rich and famous, the two parents assume the worst, that Sabine has been kidnapped.
At this point, the story leaves the distraught parents and delves into the events leading up to this moment. We start to learn about the home life of Madison, Olivier and Sabine.
Madison, who is from Texas, is aging and concerned about maintaining her looks. She also desires to be the classic Parisian wife, whatever that is, and wants to set up her own "salon." (It's a social gathering, kind of like a cocktail party? I don't really know.)
Olivier is a horndog, something Madison suspects but doesn't know for certain. He chases after all the young, pretty women who cross his path, including the new nanny, Anna. He also enjoys being famous and being known as an intellectual. He thinks he is a deep thinker but he's really quite shallow.
Anna is from Britain but her father was French. He abandoned his British family when Anna was a kid and returned to France. But because of him, Anna is fluent in French and came to Paris to work and (maybe) try to locate her estranged father. When Olivier comes sniffing around, she doesn't have the moral fiber to send him packing and falls into an affair with him.
Sabine is used to being cared for by outsiders. Before Anna came to take care of her, she was cared for by the housekeeper Luiza from the time Sabine was a baby. But like any child, however much she may love her caretakers, she still craves the attention of her parents, both of whom are too busy to spend much time with her. Olivier tends to be indulgent with Sabine and Madison tends to be a bit harsh, and nags Sabine about what the child eats.
After the Sabine kidnapping crisis is resolved, Madison takes stock of her and Sabine's lives and makes some drastic changes, changes that she hopes help her child have a happier and less stressful life and will also help Madison herself have a happier and less stressful life. But will the changes benefit Olivier?

At first, I didn't care for this story because of the ickiness of Madison and Olivier. Olivier cheats on his wife and Madison is self-absorbed. Even the secondary characters are unappealing. Anna has an affair with Olivier and Luiza is hostile and unfriendly. And poor Sabine is a bit spoiled. (It's easier for her parents to buy her presents than it is to actually spend time with her.)
But when Madison takes stock of her life after the crisis with Sabine, she starts to become less of a caricature of an aging actress and more of a real person, more sympathetic and relatable. And that is when I really started to enjoy the novel and care about the characters.

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