It is no surprise that this novel became a bestseller in France, as it captures a moment like a bird in flight—that sunny moment of refusing to acknowledge the weight of cares and celebrating the silly, the mad, and the wild. We are led in this madcap adventure by the irrepressibly sassy Garance, who travels from Paris by car with her brother and his wife to a relative’s wedding. Travelling wearing her thong because her skirt was too tight or slathering depilatory cream on her legs in the car (“Where else can I do it?”), Garance narrates, giving us a view of her family and their lives.
‘French leave’ is a phrase meaning to take one’s leave suddenly, with no warning and without permission. And that is what a family trio does almost immediately after arriving at the wedding in Podunk-on-Indre. Suddenly deciding what they really wanted to do was to visit their brother in Tours, the siblings jump back in their car and race away to spend the day with each other, taking time to remember, laugh, love, and celebrate their bonds. Left behind were boring family obligations, spouses, painful responsibilities and what they enjoyed was joyous, rare, and life-sustaining.
Something really must be said about novels that actually celebrate the ties between siblings. How rare it is. This paean to family life caused me to wonder about the parents: what had they done (or not done) to make the children so loving to one another? Sure, the kids are different from one another. Older sister Lola is careful and cautious, while younger sister Garance is completely at ease with seeing how much she can get away with. But the two somehow feel as though they are enriched—nay--can’t live without each other’s influence. Simon and Vincent are likewise different as chalk and cheese, but the freedoms of one nutures the other. There is admiration, support, generosity, and a depth of sincerity displayed that is usually reserved for best friends.
This slim novel is just a weekend slice of life—but what a slice it is! This novel should be required reading for twenty-somethings on the cusp of discovering the "latter years" and those others who need the fizz put back in their drinks. Wonderful light summer fare.
This book counts towards the 2011 Europa Challenge. The Bowed Bookshelf: French Leave by Anna Gavalda