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The Pleasing Hour Hardcover – September 1, 1999
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Atlantic Monthly Pr; 1st edition (September 1, 1999)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 237 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0871137542
- ISBN-13 : 978-0871137548
- Lexile measure : 910L
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #265,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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King's writing is bursting with color and primed with passion, it sweeps you off your feet with its many convoluted evocative nuances. The simple story of Rosie, the au pair with a tragic past, has so many angles it's as if it's reflected from a prism. The concept of a young woman perhaps being lead by her nose into guilt, or perhaps creating her own guilt is explored with such subtlety that it comes a a surprise to realize that this is really the theme of the novel. This kind of writing is rare, this type of author a 'one-in-a-generation' species. Not since I first read John Fowles have I been so deeply affected by the written word. The questions posed (without giving the plot away) : Did they plan it, had they done it before?
Not long before she arrived, Rosie had a child, and gave him up to the older sister who basically raised her. She's still working through that experience when she comes into the Trivot household, where the glossy surface conceals plenty of problems underneath: haughty Nicole and sheepish Marc are disconnected, and the kids each have their own struggles. Rosie becomes more integrated into their lives, finding some sense of security, before a trip to Spain unsettles everything.
One of the major themes of the book, and one that really resonated with me, is language: the power of fluency and the way it can both bring people together when it's shared and isolate them when it's not. Rosie arrives speaking poor French, setting her apart from the family, and even as her proficiency increases to the point where she feels comfortable speaking it in most situations and to everyone else in the household, she fears Nicole's ability to make her feel wrong. Nicole herself tries to bury the Provencal accent that marks her as a non-native Parisian. And the way Rosie sees herself and is seen by the Trivots shifts when they go to Spain and she has the most command of Spanish. Anyone who's ever tried to learn a language, or gone someplace where they didn't speak the primary one well, knows how isolating it can be when you don't understand it, how frustrating it can be to sort-of understand, but be unable to clearly make yourself understood, the thrill of being able to communicate.
While I found that particular thematic element of the book compelling, as a whole I'll admit it was just okay for me. It is a debut, and though it's the promising kind (King's prose is strong, and she shows flashes of brilliance of characterization), it doesn't seem quite sure of what exactly it's trying to say or do as a whole. We get in-depth looks at the family's children, and go back in time to learn about Nicole's parents and childhood, but get no insight into her as an adult or into Marc at all. The plot meanders, and important threads of narrative, like Rosie's emotional processing of her pregnancy and surrender of her child, didn't feel like they went anywhere. It's not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not particularly good either. If what you've read makes you interested, you won't be wasting your time in picking up the book, but you won't really be missing out on anything if you don't.
The dynamic of Rosie's and Marc's relationship was described amazingly and painfully well, even as Rosie came to understand what Nicole found objectionable in Marc. Rosie's discomfort and awkwardness were conveyed so well I was actually cringing during certain passages.
The only aspects I had trouble wrapping my mind around were how, since the Tivots got a new au pair every year, they were all so quick to open to, trust, and become attached to Rosie. The speed and ease of the transition from Paris to Plaire was also a little hard to fit into the relationship between Rosie and Nicole.
I appreciated how the story began and ended in Plaire, and the overall smoothness of that arc.
This is my second Lily King novel, having begun with "Euphoria". I plan to read everything she's written -- truly a gifted writer.