By Lisa Schwarzbaum
July 26, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Left Bank

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Kate Muir’s delicious comedy of manners Left Bank disproves the rule that all the most interesting Parisians clear out of their City of Light in the summer. There are few specimens chicer or more drolly observed than handsome philosopher-about-town Olivier Malin, his rich, Texas-born movie-star wife, Madison, their attention-starved young daughter, Sabine, and Sabine’s hip British nanny, Anna — the latter ”quite a different thing from those stolid Breton girls the Parisians bring down from the country, or the rollerblading Danish au pairs….” Delightfully self-absorbed in the way of any worthwhile object of social satire, the Malins enjoy throwing studiously glittering dinner parties in which guests dine on guinea fowl while discussing ”the anguish of asylum seekers in the housing estates beyond the Périphérique.” And when it comes to fine cheeses, pretty women, or dense French trends in philosophy, nobody out-sniffs Olivier. Only when Sabine goes missing at an amusement park is he out of his league.

Muir, a British columnist for London’s Times and a former Paris-based foreign correspondent, is an equal-opportunity satirist with a light touch (and, just as important, a kind heart) who knows that, to French dinner-party hosts, ”the English…always come on time, which is far too early.” Plot originality may lag behind perceptiveness in this sharp debut novel — but who needs much action among witty friends at a French café?

Left Bank

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