the suitors

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The Suitors
432 pages; Other Press
If you've ever wondered what Downton Abbey would be like if it were set in the South of France during our current century, then pick up this smart novel de charme immediately. Brainy, witty and well-divorced Laure Ettinguer and her sister Marie have spent every summer of their lives at their family's summer estate in Cap D'Antibes, where they "bloomed like those Japanese paper flowers that unfold their petals in water." Agapanthe, like other bonnes maisons of its caliber, is a house run like a discrete, lavish hotel for a select group of invited friends and acquaintances that range from Martha Stewart and Cabinet ministers to the occasional world-famous artist. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming expense of running such a place, Laure's parents decide to put it up for sale. Crushed, Laure and Marie hatch a plot to seduce a billionaire (there are quite few running around), who will either pay for the manse or so horrify their parents with his nouveau riche ways that they'll take Agapanthe off the market immediately. The intimate, fascinating detail with which Cécile David-Weill describes this society—complete with seating charts and chauffeur pick-up schedules—is what elevates this book from a mere romp through old-money families of France into an intelligent, engaging study of a society that seems as if it should be extinct by now. When a first-time guest arrives, for example, and proclaims he's "delighted" to be there, Laure dissects this unexpected breech of etiquette for a full page while admitting that "managing to make so many gaffs into one greeting was in fact a kind of triumph." It's her wry, intelligent approach to this life that keeps you gobbling up the story to the last page, both appalled that humans really live this way and seduced by visions of luncheons on sun-drenched loggias overlooking the sea, drinking champagne from a glass...but not a flute (a word that is "a massive no-no" in French haute society, for reasons too wonderfully elegant to make any sense).
— Leigh Newman