Lessons in French

A Novel

Lessons in French

It’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is coming down, and Kate has just graduated from Yale, eager to pursue her dreams as a fledgling painter. When she receives a job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she immediately accepts. It’s a chance not only to be at the center of it all, but also to return to France for the first time since she was a lonely nine-year-old girl, sent to the outskirts of Paris to live with cousins while her father was dying.

Kate may speak fluent French, but she arrives at the Schell household in the fashionable Sixth Arrondissement both dazzled and wildly impressionable. She finds herself surrounded by a seductive cast of characters, including the bright, pretentious Schells, with whom she boards, and their assortment of famous friends; Kate’s own flamboyant cousin; a fellow Yalie who seems to have it all figured out; and a bande of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. As Kate rediscovers Paris and her roots there, while trying to fit into Lydia’s glamorous and complicated family, she begins to question the kindness of the people to whom she is so drawn as well as her own motives for wanting them to love her.

In compelling and sympathetic prose, Hilary Reyl perfectly captures this portrait of a precocious, ambitious young woman struggling to define herself in a vibrant world that spirals out of her control. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451655049 | 
  • March 2013
List Price $9.99 (price may vary by retailer)

Reading Group Guide

Lessons in French Hilary Reyl Reading Group Guide This reading group guide for Lessons in French includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Hilary Reyl. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Set against the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Lessons in French follows Kate, a recent Yale graduate who moves to Paris to work with renowned photographer Lydia Schell. Lydia proves an unstable tour de force who introduces Kate to the likes of Umberto Eco and Henri Cartier-Bresson while testing Kate’s patience with unpredictable work assignments. A talented artist in her own right, Kate struggles to establish her own style in both her artwork and personal life, both of which are challenged throughout the novel. As Kate’s relationships with Lydia and her family become more complicated than she ever could have anticipated, she is faced with a decision: sacrifice her burgeoning individuality for the sake of her job or sacrifice a budding career to maintain her integrity. With guidance from family and an eclectic group of confidantes, Kate rejects the Schell’s enticing but complicated bourgeoisie lifestyle in order truly to develop her see more

About the Author

Hilary Reyl

Hilary Reyl has a PhD in French literature from NYU with a focus on the nineteenth century and has spent several years working and studying in France. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.