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Book review: French Leave by Anna Gavalda

6 Mar

When Garance and her siblings, Simon and Lola, find themselves trapped in the French countryside at a family wedding with their uppity, joy-killing sister-in-law, they quickly decide to make a stealthy escape and flee to visit their youngest brother, Vincent, who is working as a guide at a rural château. The four spend the afternoon together, rediscovering in their reunion the comfort and magic to be found inside their familial bonds.

Spanning one lovely, sleepy summer day, Anna Gavalda’s novel French Leave is a tender, bittersweet dreamscape of childhood memories, laughter, and the intimacy that only siblings can know. At 144 pages, this is a quick, spare novel, as full of terroir as any French wine. As poignant as it is melancholy, Gavalda’s gentle writing is spot-on in tone and pace, the just-right complement to its characters and subject matter.

Perfect for a warm, sunny Sunday morning – preferably in the heart of the French countryside, if you can swing it – French Leave is a small, charming getaway from the hectic everyday, a reminder that every once in a while, we must escape back into the arms of the past, and into the hearts of those who knew us when finding happiness was as simple as being together.

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This book will be published by Europa Editions in May 2011. For more information about the author or this novel, visit the publisher’s website. Purchasing this book from an independent bookseller will make you look more cultured and keep me in bottles of Sav  Blanc as an IndieBound affiliate (I wish). As always, happy reading.

FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of the book that I received from the publisher.

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Book review: The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn

2 Aug

I’m tempted to say that any reader with even a modest familiarity with the mystery genre and half an eye will see right through the thin secrecy of The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn, but I’d better not. I wouldn’t want to offend those hermits who have never heard of Agatha Christie, nor the half-eyed. (In fact, if you are reading with only half an eye, I commend you.)

Thankfully, the mystery is beside the point. The best part of this novel, published in July 2010, is the subtle, urbane way O’Flynn examines and contrasts the dreary exterior atmosphere of Birmingham, England, with the melancholy interior atmosphere of her characters.

The News Where You Are tells the story of Frank Allcroft, an awkward yet well-meaning local TV news presenter, whose preoccupation with the abandoned of the world colors his daily life. His main focus is delving deeper into the mystery of his predecessor, Phil Smethway’s freak death, but as he uncovers clues from several sources, he’s unsure what to do with his discoveries. Increasingly, he spends more and more time on his hobby, finding the next of kin of people who die alone in his city, prompting his affable wife Andrea to tell him, “Don’t turn weird, Frank. Don’t get all obsessed.” Additionally gripped by a strong need to understand and witness the demolition of his father’s “uncompromising, thuggish-looking” post-war architecture, Frank’s attention is turned more often to the past than the present.

If this all sounds oppressive and depressing, it’s surprisingly not. O’Flynn’s success in painting Frank with a light touch is deft and talented. Frank’s loving and playful conversations with Andrea are often humorous; his mindfulness in each moment with his pre-teen daughter, Mo, rings touching and true. Even his often-frustrating visits with his mother, a morose woman who chose to move into an assisted living center before the age of 70 to wait out her death, reveal him to be, at his core, a tender man.

O’Flynn’s talent for the soft and subtle was part of the brilliance of 2007’s What Was Lost, a fascinating and poignant story about a missing young girl. My love for that novel (and it was love) was the reason I picked up this one. However much The News Where You Are did not quite live up to my great expectations, O’Flynn is still at work here, still soft and subtle in only the best way, still spinning sensitive stories even those who’ve never heard of Agatha Christie (and, of course, the half-eyed) can truly appreciate.

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This book was published by Holt Paperbacks in July 2010. Visit here to read an interview with the author. If you’d like to purchase this book, why not support independent booksellers? Follow the link below, and happy reading.

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FTC Disclosure: This review was based on my own copy of this book.

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