Review: French Leave, by Anna Gavalda

Publication Date: 4/26/11
144 pgs. $15
Trade Paperback

International bestseller Anna Gavalda (I Wish Someone Were Waiting for me Somewhere; Hunting and Gathering) is a master of joyful banter and cheek. Her most recent jaunt, French Leave (published by le dilettante in France as L’Échappée belle in 2009) is Europa Editions’ newest translation import, helped along by expert translator Alison Anderson (A Novel Bookstore). Though a short novel, French Leave exudes a sparkling wit marked by an eccentric enthusiasm, providing a brief glance into the world of adult sibling affection, of growing up, of familial likeness and joy.

A take on the journey novel, it all begins when the laid back eldest brother Simon and his acidic wife Carine make an unplanned detour on the way to a family wedding in order to pick up the narrator, his youngest sister, Garance. What immediately follows is a bitter account of Carine’s own family, and the disdain they have for the one she married into. After a volley of conspicuous insults are hurled from the front seat to the back, another detour is announced, to pick up Garance’s older sister, Lola. Carine’s irritation grows, but the explosion comes when Simon and his sisters make the executive decision to circumvent their cousin’s wedding, and instead visit their youngest brother, Vincent; they take a literal French leave, abandoning Carine at the church without any warning.

As true siblings will know, these brothers and sisters’ interactions are like a secret code, a clandestine world that we’re invited to, with a few exceptions, i.e. when Garance says: “We swapped sister stories. I’ll skip that scene. We have too many shortcuts and grunts. Besides, without the soundtrack, it’s meaningless. All you sisters out there will know what I mean.” …which is a perfect assessment of the way the book reads – a series of inside jokes and knowing glances. And when the story ends, and their leave is over, and you know the spring of their young adulthood has come to a close, it may have the effect of saying goodybe, but it’s satisfying; you can already see what lies ahead of them on their separate paths, because you're in on the joke, too.


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