Review: French Leave

French LeaveAnna Gavalda, French Leave (trans. Alison Anderson)

This book centers around four adult siblings — Simon, Lola, Garance, and Vincent — who don’t see each other as often as they used to. But when the eldest three reunite for a family wedding, they spontaneously decide to visit Vincent, the baby of the family, who has a job in the French countryside. Garance narrates the story and paints vivid pictures of her siblings. Simon, the eldest child, is the family’s golden boy, the responsible one, who grew up to obtain a good job and a suitable wife, Carine, whom Lola and Garance tease mercilessly. Lola and Garance are best friends despite their differences; as Garance notes, “She’s romantic, I’m pragmatic. She got married, I flitter and flirt. She can’t sleep with a guy unless she’s in love, I can’t sleep with a guy unless there’s a condom.” When they abandon their relative’s wedding to visit Vincent, the four siblings have a charmed weekend, reminiscing about the past and reevaluating some of the choices they’ve made in their lives.

This novella is like a bite of some frothy dessert, short and sweet. I don’t often read books where the main focus is on sibling relationships, but I enjoyed reading about Garance and her brothers and sister — especially because their relationships are generally good and pleasant rather than dysfunctional. I can relate to their situation somewhat: I only have one sibling, and we get along great, but because we are both adults who live far from each other, we don’t stay in touch as well as I’d like. I think this book captures that bittersweet aspect of adult sibling relationships very well. I also liked the evolution of Garance and Lola’s relationship with Carine; they sort of villainize her at first, but eventually they begin to see where she’s coming from and tolerate her a little more. There’s not much of a plot in this book, but it’s such a quick read that it doesn’t need many events to propel it forward. Overall, I found this book a pleasant diversion, and I’d recommend both it and Hunting and Gathering, a full-length novel by the same author.

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