Catherine Lambert loves fashion and the law. One of only three applicants, out of a pool of thirty, selected to transfer from Edwards & White’s Paris office to its Manhattan headquarters, and the only one assigned to the corporate group, Catherine is determined to continue impressing her bosses with her diligence and legal prowess. Meeting the firm’s billable hours quota means long days and short nights, especially when two heinously spiteful secretaries are conspiring to undermine Catherine’s reputation and efforts to please both the firm’s clients and partners.
Making matters worse, one of the firm’s particularly powerful and obnoxious clients propositions her, actually referring to her as his “favorite little lawyer.” When she refuses his advances, he accuses her of becoming intoxicated at a charity event and embarrassing him, several colleagues, and their wives. His behavior places Catherine into a quagmire and threatens to derail her career.
Things start looking up when yet another client, Jeffrey Richardson, seems to show genuine interest in her. But is he too good to be true? She is just starting to believe that she might be able to “have it all” when Jeffrey requests that she engage in unethical conduct on his behalf that could ultimately lead to her disbarment and serious consequences for the firm. Did Jeffrey ever really care for her or was she merely his means to a financial end? Yet again, Catherine finds herself at a crossroads, questioning her career choices to date . . . and what shape she wants her future to take.
First-time novelist Isabelle Lafleche spent over ten years working in New York City, Montreal, and Toronto as a corporate attorney with a large law firm and on Wall Street. It was while representing a Quebec-based fashion designer that she developed her own interest in haute cauture. With her background, Lafleche brings an authentic voice to the story of the young, ambitious, fashion-conscious Catherine.
J’adore New York was a delightful surprise. Lafleche expertly depicts the stress under which professionals like Catherine labor and turns what could have been nothing more than a frothy romp about a fashion-obsessed female attorney into a multi-layered exploration of corporate intrigue and greed, ethical dilemmas, and, most importantly, the creative and resourceful ways in which we can follow our dreams and still manage to earn our daily bread.
Although J’Adore New York is a call for introspection and the need to reevaluate one’s values, I also wanted to entertain people and make them laugh.~ Author Isabelle Lafleche
Catherine is young, idealistic, and enthusiastic. Upon arriving in New York, she is surprised to find herself assigned to a corner office. But as Mimi, the office administrator, explains, the arrangement is only temporary, pending the completion of the office Catherine is destined to inhabit. After all, Mimi reminds Catherine, “No one gets a corner office until their tenth year at the firm. But don’t you worry, in time you’ll get yours.” When Catherine is quickly thrust into situations that test her ethical and moral boundaries, she is forced to re-evaluate her choices and decide what matters most to her. Ten years is an awfully long time to put in eighty-hour work weeks in order to earn a view of Manhattan while continuing to toil in the office, rather than get outside and actually enjoy the city. Catherine is gradually revealed by Lafleche to be a multi-dimensioned, nuanced protagonist, a testament not only to Lafleche’s impeccable grasp of her subject matter, but also her ability to translate it into thought-provoking fiction.
It may not be a previously unexplored theme, but Lafleche puts her own unique stamp on it. The action never slows, making it hard to put the book down as the dramatic tension builds. As one reviewer pointed out, it is rare in women’s fiction to actually see a lead female character working. Often, the story’s drama is centered around the character’s life outside the professional arena, involving romance, children, etc. But in J’adore New York, the office machinations and manipulations are the focus of the action. Readers are treated not only to the exchanges between members of the firm, but also some of Catherine’s work product, as she is known among the staff for being adept at translating legalese into readily understandable prose. To be sure, that is a valuable talent.
Lafleche surrounds Catherine with a thoroughly believable cast of supporting characters, including Bonnie Clark, the partner in charge of mergers and acquisitions to whom Catherine reports. Bonnie has survived brutal competition to secure her partnership and, over the years, has become adept at office politics, client manipulation, and honed a dictatorial supervisory style that strikes fear in the hearts of junior attorneys. Rikash is the loyal, flamboyant, and efficient legal assistant every attorney dreams of.
There is the elusive and mysterious Antoine, impeccably groomed and tight-lipped. Is he a friend or foe? Lafleche keeps her readers guessing. And, of course, Jeffrey Richardson figures prominently in the storyline. Charming, handsome, and powerful, Catherine cannot help but be attracted to him, even though she is handling his upcoming IPO. When Catherine finally understands Jeffrey’s motives and plan, she is sickened, but has to find a way to outsmart Jeffrey and protect the firm, the investors, and her license to practice law. In Lafleche’s deft hands, Catherine is as clever as she is beautiful. This is one part of the story where Lafleche can be forgiven for taking dramatic license for the sake of satisfying her readers.
The other aspects of the story where readers will need to suspend their disbelief concern Catherine’s brief lapses in judgment, as when she has Rikash attempt to cover for her with the firm’s partners so that she can sneak out to attend a Dior sample sale. It is hard to believe that a senior managing partner walking into a junior attorney’s office in the middle of the workday to find the attorney and her assistant engaged in an impromptu fashion show would not be more disturbed and enraged than the character of Scott becomes. Such behavior, including ignoring clients’ calls for several hours, would most likely result in much more than a verbal warning. And it was difficult to believe that Catherine, having accomplished so much, would jeopardize her career in that manner. But again, Lafleche makes Catherine and Rikash such an endearing pair that forgiveness from her readers is definitely in order.
Lafleche is reportedly at work on the sequel to J’adore New York, an auspicious beginning to Lafleche’s career as a novelist, which was apparently predicted by a psychic she met in New York. That chance encounter prompted her to resign from her firm, move back home to her native Canada, and enroll in creative writing classes. Lafleche is living proof that, just as Catherine learns by the book’s conclusion, “your passion is waiting for your courage to catch up.” I look forward to reading more of her work.
I read J’adore New York in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review and the Fall Into Reading 2010 challenges.