Parisian Charm School is author Jamie Cat Callan’s fourth book about France. Or, more accurately, about French culture with a focus on the secrets of French women and their mysterious, alluring qualities when it comes to lurve.
Callan, an American writer, promises to deliver the secrets of the famous je ne sais quoi, which she postulates comes from a sense of personal beauty, confidence, uniqueness, and style. Her theory is that joy in the everyday is something Parisian women grow up knowing and that their culture is full of charm which we westerners can learn.
One thing is certain: Callan is charming. Her writing is captivating, she paints beautiful ‘word pictures’ (which she also urges her readers to do in everyday conversation) and she paints a captivating picture of Parisian culture. However, as far as a “syllabus” goes (which she promises will help you rediscover “your beautiful, fierce, romantic, engaging best self”), the jury is out.
She writes on a range of topics and at the end of each chapter, provides a “Parisian Charm School Lesson”. Some of these contain little gems, others are a bit silly, and still, others are insulting. Yes, Ms Callan, as a mother of two littlies, I’d love to keep my house free of toys and domestic clutter to cultivate a sense of romance for my husband. Unfortunately, this isn’t the 1950s, I do not have a nanny on hand, I have a job to go to in addition to raising those children and maintaining a relationship. Perhaps Ms Callan is stuck in the middle of a Mad Men binge?
One other criticism is that the book is American-centric and while Ms Callan is American and writing from that point of view, she makes constant references that assume all her readers are also from the USA. It’s quite off-putting as it immediately casts non-American readers into the role of ‘excluded outsider’. Perhaps, given she is published in 21 countries, she could have given some thought to those other 20 countries that buy her books.
Those gripes aside, there are some lovely insights into Parisian culture and the art of confidence and the everyday flirt. This book probably would have benefited from pictures of her travels through France, especially when she describes antique fans, soirees under the stars, and country biking festivals. It was interesting to compare her observations about French culture while the Adelaide French Festival was on, and certainly many of her assertions rang true. The French love their food, wine, and leisure activities and this book describes how those small joys in life can lead to happier individuals who attract the best of everything around them, including hearts.
If you’d like some insight into the best of Parisian culture, with a spattering of useful tips that might improve your self-image and confidence, then you’ll like this book. Don’t expect anything too deep, though, or quite the “syllabus” on capturing hearts that the marketing machine has seized on. It’s cute and pretty, with some annoying bits.
Rating out of 10:
Distributed by: Penguin Random House Australia
Released: January 2018
RRP: $27.99 hardback, $13.99 eBook