Title: How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance
Author: Marilyn Yalom
Source: from publisher for a TLC Book Tour
Review Summary: A fascinating read, with unbelievable anecdotes and captivating stories. Lacking a cohesive theme, but still interesting, elegant, and insightful.
How the French Invented Love is a history of love in French society, particularly French literature, from around 1100AD to today. The author summarizes classic stories to give you a feel for the era, but leaves out just enough that you desperately want to read the complete work. These glimpses into each era’s literature are spiced up by the addition of true anecdotes from the author’s personal experience in France. Some of these stories are not for the faint of heart, as they include adultery and other even more unusual romantic situations, but there are very few explicit sex scenes included. I would rate this one PG-13.
Despite the lack of explicit sex scenes, I would highly recommend this book to all fans of the romance genre. Even as someone who only dabbles in romance, I found the history of the genre and the ways it shaped and was shaped by French culture incredibly fascinating. One of the few downsides to the book was the lack of a clear thread connecting the different eras into which the author divided French literature. She draws few overarching conclusions, focusing instead of analyzing the spirit of each era separately. In a lesser book, the lack of direction might have ruined the book for me; this one drew me in with accessible summaries of classic literature, the spicy real life anecdotes, and the interesting topic. It was hard to put down!
A few other likes and dislikes… I loved that the author included some words and phrases in French along with translations. It was incredible how many different words there are for different shades of love and I appreciated her explanations of phrases without direct English translations. Some of these added real insight into the differences between French and American views on love. I was less fond of the way she referred back to authors discussed earlier without reorienting her readers with some descriptors. That oversight meant I did a lot of flipping back and forth to check which author wrote what. Finally, and appropriately for a book involving such focus on the sensual, the physical book itself particularly appealed to me. From the appearance of the cover to it’s canvas-like material to the rough edged pages, the book was as elegant as the French society it portrayed.