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Shelf Awareness: "Laugh-out-loud funny."

Date: Apr 21 2011

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French Leave by Anna Gavalda, trans. by Alison Anderson (Europa, $15 trade paper, 9781609450052, April 26, 2011)


Without a wasted word on preliminaries, author Anna Gavalda (Hunting and Gathering) charges into her humor-laced narrative with a swift, economical, almost abbreviated style that tells you just enough to get to the next sentence, with only enough time for a quick laugh at her barbed, no-holds-barred take on modern times.

Garance Lariot, the 20-something narrator, is forced to ride in the car with her adored brother's intolerable wife. Simon, older brother and pillar of the family, admits to being tired of his work and his life (not to mention his wife's neurotic obsession with germs). The three of them are en route to a cousin's wedding. Their sister Lola will join them on the way; their brother Vincent will meet them there.

When Vincent fails to show up for the ceremony, the other three siblings impulsively take "French leave" from the marital festivities and set off to find their brother at the chateau where he works as a guide, abandoning the bothersome sister-in-law. Inadvertently, they escape from one wedding only to find themselves accidentally caught up in another; they cross paths with a homeless dog who knows immediately when he locks eyes with his future owner; and end up having a much better time than they ever could have had with their own relatives.

The narrative unfolds in brisk snatches of dialogue with cinematic swiftness. The exuberance of the Lariots crackles through their words, and their joy in each other's company is so contagious the reader feels lucky to be included. The siblings' love for each other is tangible, brothers and sisters genuinely delighted to be reunited. Feisty and passionate, they share the songs and books and movies of their lives, the way they've continued to love each other for almost 30 years. Replete with witty banter and catty repartee, with snotty comments and arch rebuttals, the smart-alecky style is often laugh-out-loud funny.--Nick DiMartino

Shelf Talker: The story of four siblings playing hooky from a family wedding, told in brisk snatches of dialogue with cinematic swiftness. With witty banter and arch rebuttals, the smart-alecky style is often laugh-out-loud funny.

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