cover image French Leave

French Leave

Anna Gavalda, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson. Europa Editions (Penguin, dist.), $15 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-60945-005-2

For those who still assume all French literature is intellectual or existential, Gavalda (Hunting and Gathering), a translator and bestselling author in Europe, is the clear antidote. Her anecdotal latest follows Simon and his two sisters, Lola and Garance, as they escape a cousin's countryside wedding (and Simon's persnickety wife, Carine), fleeing from the church to seek out their brother, Vincent, who is impersonating a pauperized aristocrat while working as a tour guide in a local chateau. The siblings spend an indulgent afternoon together, starkly delineating the difference between Paris and the rest of France. Narrator Garance ridicules nearly everyone except her family, upon whom she lavishes continuous praise. Her urbane siblings are "those sublime losers," and her mother is "graceful, charming, full of energy, elegant, so much class.... A typical Parisienne." However, the author's effort fails as both pastiche and social commentary; her take on the provinces and the sorry souls who inhabit them is ungenerous and trite, while the narrator's no-less-distinctive Parisian parochialism goes unchecked and unexamined. Though undeniably funny at times, especially when the author takes aim at such easily lampooned cultural archetypes as the conservative, predictable, hygiene-obsessed pharmacist, Carine, the novel never gathers any steam and finally peters out with a three-page iPod playlist, which brings bittersweet tears to Garance and, to the reader, tears of boredom. (May)