Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Expats: Chris Pavone

I bought this book in 2013 at the book sale, and I only read it this month because it is set in Luxembourg and it would be a good choice for the European Reading Challenge. After waiting all that time, I loved the book. I had forgotten that The Expats is a spy story. It is a lot more than that, but at its core we have the secrets, the mistrust, and the tension of a spy story, and it was perfect for me.

The main character, Kate, was a CIA agent for many years. She has been married to Dexter for several years and they have two sons (four and five). Suddenly, one day, Dexter suggests that they move to Luxembourg because he has a new job there. Kate leaves her job behind and becomes a full-time mother.

The only character we get to know well is Kate. The story is told from her point of view, but not in first person. Dexter is kind of a cipher and I think that is intentional, to keep the reader guessing. This is also very much a story about a full-time stay-at-home mother. Kate has made the transition from full-time job (with a nanny to care for the kids) to being with them every hour that they are not in school, which at this point is preschool. Her husband is much less available in his new job and travels a lot.

It soon becomes obvious that Kate had some kind of hush-hush job and also had a bad experience shortly before she left the job. The slow reveal of what she did formerly and the major event that is troubling her is very well done. This is followed by multiple revelations about her husband, the reason behind their move to Luxembourg, and some new friends they met after moving to Luxembourg.

The story switches between two timelines. The story is framed by short segments throughout the book that are set in the current time and written in present tense, but most of the story centers on what happened two years before when Kate and Dexter moved to Luxembourg and is written in past tense. It is clear which time frame we are in because of the typeface and the tense, and this worked very well for me, but it could get confusing.

I liked the way that Pavone gets across the conflict between being a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. This is one of those issues in life that may have no good answer (depending on the person and the amount of money available), but the pull of wanting to be with your kids and be a part of their lives versus having responsibilities and a life (and money) of your own is difficult to deal with, and I think he shows that very well.

I did learn a lot about Luxembourg. It is a grand duchy bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. What is really interesting is that the language spoken there is Luxembourgish, which Dexter describes as "a Germanic dialect, with French tossed in." German, French and English are also spoken there.

About the author:
It is strange to read a book about a full-time mother feeling overwhelmed by her lack of privacy and time for herself that is written by a man. After finishing the book I read a couple of articles about how a similar thing happened to Chris Pavone. His wife got a very good job working in Luxembourg and he was the stay-at-home dad, doing the washing, adjusting to an entirely new environment with no friends around, going to the park with his kids and chatting with the mothers who brought their kids. So that is one reason he got it so right.

The Expats was published in 2012 and was Chris Pavone's first novel. It won the 2013 Edgar Award for best first novel by an American author. He has published three more novels:

  • The Accident (2014).
  • The Travelers (2016).
  • The Paris Diversion (2019). A sequel to The Expats, but written so that it can be read as a standalone novel, according to this article at Shots Ezine.

See also these reviews at Clothes in Books, BooksPlease, and Finding Time to Write.


Publisher:  Broadway Paperbacks, 2013 (orig. pub. 2012)
Length:      326 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Series:       Kate Moore, #1
Setting:      Luxembourg, mostly
Genre:       Thriller, Spy fiction
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2013.


Margot Kinberg said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one so much, Tracy. The life of an ex-pat, no matter what the reason for leaving a country, is interesting and, I think, unique. I give Pavone credit for exploring what that's like. You make a well-taken point about the POV in the story, too. I think it gives it an added layer of intrigue, which is right for this sort of novel.

Cath said...

Great book for Luxembourg! Those are very thin on the ground as far as I know. I'm not a huge spy reader as I think I've mentioned before but am currently reading a book about Frederick Forsyth's life and might try one of his at some stage, The Day of the Jackal perhaps. Who knows, I might develop a taste for spy stories!

TracyK said...

Margot, you are right, I had never thought of what it would be like to move to another country and be away from everything you are used to having, including friends. Military families deal with that, sort of, but there is a support community in that case, which makes a difference.

TracyK said...

Cath, The Day of the Jackal is a really good book. I read it a long time ago, and have a copy to reread. I don't think I have read anything else by Forsyth except maybe The Odessa File.

TracyK said...

Cath, I forgot to tell you I have a couple of other books for Luxembourg ... for future years. I plan to try The Candidate by Daniel Pembrey, very short, 132 pages and I think it is a thriller. Also The Luxembourg Run by Stanley Ellin. That one is from the 1970s and sounds like a thriller also. I have wanted to read something by Stanley Ellin so I am looking forward to that one. Some day.

Cath said...

I saw the movie of Day of the Jackal years ago and thought it was excellent, so will think about reading the book at some stage. I'll also make a note of your Luxembourg ideas. Thanks!

Clothes in Books said...

Thanks for the shoutout, and yes I really loved this book, for all the reasons you mention. And as you say, it was most impressive as a picture of a woman's life - also of expat life. I must read more by him.

TracyK said...

Moira, I was so impressed by this book that I bought the next book he wrote and hope to read it soon. I wanted to buy the follow-up to this one but it is fairly new, I figured I could work my way through his other books first. This was a wonderful book.

col2910 said...

If I didn't have so much on my pile I'd be tempted. I love the spy element, but I think I'm more drawn to the Cold War days than more contemporary stuff. Not that I've read much of either for a while.

TracyK said...

Col, this one reminded me of Olen Steinhauer's spy fiction, not that I like to make comparisons. And when I started reading, I wasn't expecting spy fiction. I would like to get back to some Cold War spy fiction myself, although I don't know what I have now that fits that bill. Still have some James Bond books to read, but that is really more adventure oriented.