Le Divorce

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

LE DIVORCE, like Johnson’s earlier PERSIAN NIGHTS (1987), juxtaposes an American sensibility with the social mores of a foreign culture. Told from the perspective of Isabel Walker, a film school drop-out sent to Paris to live with her stepsister Roxanne (Roxy) de Persand, the novel concerns Isabel’s search to learn more about herself and the French culture which threatens to exclude her.

Isabel arrives in Paris only to discover that Roxy, two months pregnant with her second child, has been deserted by her French painter husband for another woman. The usually pragmatic Roxy becomes more and more withdrawn and morose as she considers her dwindling possibilities. Isabel, however, uses the circumstances to learn more about her sister and the city, developing her assertiveness and confidence as she assumes more responsibility for her own and others’ happiness. Indeed, Isabel’s unlikely affair with the much older Edgar Cossett, the uncle of her sister’s errant husband, does much to teach Isabel about the historical and cultural infrastructure of Parisian society. Under his tutelage, Isabel uncovers a sense of the city which she uses to acclimate herself to her adopted culture.

While LE DIVORCE is essentially a comedic novel of manners told in Isabel’s offhand, sometimes ironic voice, the novel loses credibility in its later half as Johnson tries to bring in multiple subplots which add little more than hyperbolic tabloid violence, changing the tone and mood of this otherwise upbeat novel.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. January 5, 1997, p. 6.

The Christian Science Monitor. February 20, 1997, p. 10.

Europe. May, 1997, p. 48.

Harper’s Magazine. CCXCI, September, 1996, p. 66.

Library Journal. CXXI, November 15, 1996, p. 88.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 29, 1996, p. 2.

The New York Review of Books. XLIV, February 6, 1997, p. 16.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, February 2, 1997, p. 10.

The New Yorker. LXXIII, March 10, 1997, p. 93.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, October 21, 1996, p. 70.

The Times Literary Supplement. January 24, 1997, p. 23.

The Wall Street Journal. January 10, 1997, p. A9.