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As an incorrigible lover of almost everything French, I can’t seem to pass by any book about the country. I am seduced by its history, design, art, architecture and music. I am also particularly fond of books that capture the experience of actually living in France, like Laurence Wylie’s Village in the Vaucluse or Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence. So when I saw Lunch in Paris – A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard at my local bookstore, my heart skipped a beat.
I didn’t buy the book immediately, but wrote down the title and author in a Moleskin I carry with me for just that purpose. I was almost finished reading another book with a similar title, My Berlin Kitchen – A Love Story with Recipes by Luisa Weiss and didn’t want to read the same genre back to back. Many weeks passed and I found myself back at the bookstore, intrigued once again by Bard’s book. I bought it, ever hopeful I would be swept away by it as I was with Weiss’ book. The back jacket cover described the book thusly, “Lunch in Paris is the story of a young woman caught up in two passionate affairs – one with her new beau and the other with French cuisine.” After reading it I found neither passion to ring completely true.
The glib first line of the book presumably meant to instantly catch the reader, “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date,” sets the tone for the entire book. I closed the book, annoyed by the obvious hook, then opened it again and read all of the glowing reviews included in the front pages. I reread the first paragraph again. “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date. I say halfway because we had finished lunch, but not yet ordered coffee. It turned out to be a decisive moment, more important for my future happiness than where I went to college or years with a good shrink. The question was posed lightly.” What question? Puzzled, I continued reading. No question followed. “It looked like rain. We could sit it out in a café or, since his apartment was not far, he could make tea. I was not fully aware at the time that American girls in Paris are sluts by definition, willing to do sober what British girls would only do drunk…” I grimaced, closed the book, but this time I put it down.
A few days later I had time for a brief respite between work projects, made a cup of coffee and continued reading where I left off. Now I was even more perplexed by Bard’s description of herself as being old fashioned and not the kind of girl who would sleep around casually. What changed her mind? One minute she describes her large breasts, then she reveals poignant childhood memories. I wondered, is this a memoir and, if so, who is Elizabeth Bard? Could this book be a thinly veiled attempt at marrying Sex in the City with Eat, Pray, Love? Well, I decided, whoever she was I couldn’t take her seriously.
Ultimately, Lunch in Paris is recommendable as a light read and parts of it are even enjoyable, but its hype promises more than it delivers. The recipes seem to be very easy to prepare, though I never had a sense of her passion for French cuisine. I simply felt she liked to eat French food. Actually, the reader’s guide questions provoke much more in-depth topics for discussion than the content of the book ever rose to. And surprisingly, the afterward which describes her and her husband’s purchase of a house in Provence that the Provençal poet, René Char, lived in was almost pitch perfect. Now that’s a story.