a novel by Christine Conrad
February 17, 2011
My friend Jan Sardi, who wrote the film "Shine," and the recent "Mao's Last Dancer" sent me the following after reading the book.
I finished reading Mademoiselle Benoir on the weekend. I loved it. The letters weave such a wonderful spell in unfolding the delicate story. I remember you telling me all those years ago about it, so that made it extra special.
Lots of love,
"Peter Mayle meets Gail Sheehy!" — Susan Stamberg, on NPR's Morning Edition
"'A Year in Provence' meets 'Le Mariage' in this epistolary first novel.... a pleasant excursion. Catherine Deneuve would be a perfect Catherine; and for Tim, who else but Ashton Kutcher?" — New York Times Book Review
"Mademoiselle Benoir takes far too many chances, and gets away with all of them." — Jacquelyn Mitchard, Oprah's Book Club featured author
By Christine Conrad
Tim Reinhart's life changes the moment he purchases an old farmhouse in the country of France, region of Quercy, department of Lot, city of Cajarc, commune of St.-Jean d'Olt. This rural, completely un-touristy setting is the backdrop for the winter's most unexpected love story, Mademoiselle Benoir (Houghton Mifflin, January 4, 2006) by Christine Conrad.
It is impossible not to be enchanted by Tim's descriptions of the Lot Valley: the rituals of food, the quirky neighbors ("right out of Balzac," Tim's mother says), and Mademoiselle Benoir, the beautiful, aristocratic French woman twenty years Tim's senior. Tim and Catherine Benoir form a close friendship based on their common appreciation for art, and over time this friendship grows into love. When they decide to marry, her family is outraged, his family is shocked, and the entire town is disrupted. Tradition and culture are at odds with love — and the artistic couple is right at the center of the maelstrom.
"Love is the 'glue' of life and its greatest mystery," says Christine Conrad, who brings a lively, witty touch to her first novel. She continues, "Who can say why we fall in love, or why we choose what to others can seem the most unlikely of mates?" Her characters Tim Reinhart and Catherine Benoir would certainly agree — despite the incendiary layers of emotional and cultural complexity that their love for each other and decision to marry has uncovered.
Conrad effectively transports the reader to the French countryside in her vivid description of the tastes, smells, and sights that Tim and his neighbors experience. Composed in epistolary style, the novel allows the reader to develop an intimate relationship with each of the characters as their emotions and intentions are revealed through letters.
In writing Mademoiselle Benoir, Conrad drew inspiration from the real life story of a friend's son who left New York and relocated to rural France. When the young man married an older French woman, Conrad explains that, "I was completely enthralled by their romance and the extraordinary strife it inspired, and I knew immediately that here was a one-of-a-kind tale, one that resonated for me with that writer's sensation: This is my kind of story." Conrad did extensive research on French culture and history to create an imagined story about the personal and cultural struggles of a couple in such a situation.
Booklist described MADEMOISELLE BENOIR as "a thoroughly satisfying and thoughtful story of love triumphant." Perfect for Valentine's Day, it is a wonderful addition to the bookshelf of anyone who has loved against the odds—or who is seeking the courage to.