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Page turners: Left Bank

By Yvonne Zipp / August 11, 2006



Olivier and Madison Malin are living out Parental Nightmare No. 29: Child disappears from theme park. The "Great Mind and Great Body" of Paris's Left Bank have lost their daughter, Sabine, who apparently vanished from a moving roller coaster while her parents were arguing. Even better, an obliging paparazzo has immortalized the event.

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Readers might think they know where this is going, but Kate Muir has prepared a light satire, not a dense mystery. After spiriting Sabine away, Muir rewinds the action to the day Anna, Sabine's spunky British nanny, arrives at Chez Malin. Olivier, a celebrity philosopher (this is Paris, after all), sees himself as a defender of French mores, as demonstrated by his obsessively quoting Sartre, scarfing down rich foods, and indulging in affairs. Madison, a transplanted Texan, has parlayed her blonde good looks into a career in "sub-pornographic art-house films," and spends her days tending her beauty. "She was exquisitely polite but rather formal, with the reserved expression of the recently Botoxed," Muir writes.

Sabine's disappearance forces Olivier and Madison to delve beneath the perfectly polished surface of their marriage. Muir tosses off witty lines and elegant bon mots as she sends up and celebrates French society. Fans of Diane Johnson might find they have a new favorite. Grade: A–

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