Archive for the ‘Anna Gavalda’ Category

French Leave by Anna Gavalda, translated by Alison Anderson, is a brief novella about four adult siblings reunited one weekend.  Simon, Lola and Garance ditch a family wedding (and Simon’s exacting wife Carine) to track down brother Vincent, working at a run-down chateau in the Tours countryside.  During the short time they spend together, the siblings relax, joke, laugh, and talk, reverting to the closeness of childhood that had been lost as they all grew up. 

Garance is an interesting, opinionated narrator.  I found her obnoxious and rude as she baited her sister-in-law on the way to the wedding and felt instant sympathy for Carine.  But, at the same time, Garance’s immediate bristling when she hears Carine talking down to Simon, her urge to rush to the defense of her adored elder brother cannot help but make you warm to her:

Why does she speak to him like that?  Does she even know who she’s talking to?  Does she even know that the man sitting next to her was the god of scale models?  The ace of Meccano sets?  A Lego System genius? (p. 35)

Still, I was thrilled when, later in the novel, Simon comes to the defense of his wife, telling Garance and Lola how intimidating Carine finds them, how her insecurity about being near them makes her uptight and stressed when they’re around.  I can completely understand the gorgeous, laid-back Garance having this effect on people.  And how can they expect kindness and warmth from Carine when they are so unrelentingly awful to her?

I am always fascinated by sibling relationships but particularly so when there are more than two siblings.  Two siblings can be close, as my brother and I are, but when you have multiple siblings and multiple relationships to manage (as well as the power of knowing that, united, you outnumber your parents) I find it far more intriguing.  Garance has very different relationships with each of her three siblings.  Vincent is loved and indulged but apparently rarely seen.  Simon, adored and respected, has a domestic life complete with wife and two daughters that is worlds away from Garance’s party-filled days.  And Lola, divorced mother of two, has become, despite the massive difference in their lifestyles, her best friend:

Nowadays she’s my best friend.  We’re sort of like Montaigne and La Boétie, for example…Because she is who she is, and I am who I am.  The fact that this young woman of thirty-two years of age is also my older sister is totally beside the point.  Well, maybe not totally, it’s just fortunate we didn’t have to waste time trying to find each other.  (p. 43)

This is an interesting story, though not necessarily a memorable one.  Still, the sibling dialogue, the rudeness masking true affection, felt very true to life and the observations about growing up and away from each other, trying to grasp some time together before families of their own making claim all their time, were affecting:

What we were experiencing at that moment – something all four of us were aware of – was a windfall.  Borrowed time, an interlude, a moment of grace.  A few hours stolen from other people…

For how much longer will we have the strength to tear ourselves away from everyday life and resist?  How often will life give us the chance to play hooky?  To thumb our noses at it?  Or make our little honorarium on the side?  When will we lose one another, and in what way will the ties be stretched beyond repair? (p. 94)

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