BOOK REVIEW: Whispering in French – A Novel by Sophia Nash

BOOK REVIEW: Whispering in French – A Novel by Sophia Nash

HarperCollins Publishers
August 2017
Paperback, $24.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction / Modern & Contemporary Fiction

7/10

At university, a friend casually observed that those studying psychology tended to be people who seemed the most neurotic personalities themselves. The same rings true for the main protagonist in the novel, Whispering in French. Kate Hamilton is a French-American therapist who is trained to help her clients through their problems, but her own life is in complete disarray. And things get even more complicated when she is tasked with sorting out some issues for her family, including making decisions about a crumbling old villa located in the gorgeous, Basque country.

So I was to figure out a permanent solution for my grandfather, deal with the finances and the natives who all had their hands outstretched, sell a house that was falling apart at the seams, and analyze an officer in the British Army, who probably had zero interest in having his clock examined.
And all within a month and a half. Then I could escape to Escape Business with only a few more cracks etching my shell.
“Anything else, Magdali?”
“Don’t forget the chocolate biscuits.”

This novel is by the award-winning romance author, Sophia Nash. This is her first foray into the world of women’s fiction and the results are quite good. This story is a first-person account told from the perspective of Kate Hamilton; a cynical and divorced psychologist-turned-life coach who is racked with fear and self-doubt that she has wronged her teenage daughter, Lily.

Ill ease raked the corners of my mind. Unhappiness and ill fortune dog the heels of every living being on this planet. When would people learn that happiness is but a fleeting gossamer thread woven into our lives like fools’ gold, which cannot endure throughout the course of our lives? Our best option is to embrace the concept of change, our ever-evolving paths, and endure the good and the bad. Or just become numb. I was one to muse. Only work kept one sane. The loftier called it a sense of purpose. Oh, and hope? That saintly word? Forget hope. Forget Oprah and Dr. Phil. Just learn to endure. With a sense of purpose. Or not.

Hamilton initially accepts an offer from her mother, Antoinette du Roque, to travel to France, a place where the former had spent her summer holidays as a teenager. Hamilton believes she can settle her grandfather’s debts, sell the house, and be done with all things French in whirlwind time. But there are some roadblocks and tribulations, including a fierce storm and some surprising revelations from her family. Nash’s pacing can be a little slow-burning at times, but she does offer a multifaceted tale where some sub-plots are resolved better than others.

That was the thing in France. Everyone thought it their right to comment on everyone else, especially their appearance. Gossip and flirting were noun and verb one. And extra points if you could do it to their face. I smiled against my will. God, I hated to descend to their level.

Another major plot point involves Hamilton accepting the grand-nephew of her grandfather’s close friend as a patient. Major Edward Soames is a British military officer who is grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Over time the two build an unlikely and interesting friendship and they help each other to cope and deal with different realisations and issues.

“He has a daughter, Winnie, who is eight. The light of his life—just like him really. And a son, Charles, seven.” The rest of the story gushed from the old man like tea through a broken strainer. Five tours in Bosnia or the Middle East, a leave of absence, threats of divorce, late-night pacing, drinking alone, silence. The full panoply of denial and depression.

This book contains some brief sections where Nash pens a whimsical little tale involving a French neighbour’s tabby cat and a hedgehog. While some readers may enjoy this twee tangent, others may find it a tad unnecessary and too cute for its own benefit. One thing that Nash should be commended on is the descriptive, often poetic prose that she uses in other parts of this story. She deftly paints quite vivid and evocative scenes and the characters seem really rich and vibrant.

Whispering in French is quite an ambitious story that examines life’s purpose and meaning by framing it around a middle-aged woman’s opportunity for a second chance in the French countryside. Those who enjoy an optimistic look at transformation and change like that explored in Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love will find some delightful pearls of wisdom weaved into this idyllic setting and cast of eccentrics. Nash has written a beautiful, nuanced and slow-burning story that seems likely to really resonate with the right readers.

BOOK REVIEW: Whispering in French - A Novel by Sophia Nash

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