Gallic Books £6.99
Breaking Away, By Anna Gavalda (trs Alison Anderson)
Small, but perfectly formed
Sunday 17 July 2011
The tiniest of tunes can stick in the mind.
While major publishers are delivering great orchestrations by their unedited über-brands – JK Rowling and John Irving clearly have not felt the lash of a red pen in years – our adventurous small presses have fallen in love with the simple melodies of literature's ukulele: the novella. It is a sweet romance that has seen Hesperus Press, Portabello Books and Pushkin Press all flirt successfully with the form. And into this cabinet of miniatures we can now place Anna Gavalda's Breaking Away, a loving haiku to the joys of having siblings.
Published by Gallic Books (it does what it says on the patisserie box), Gavalda's slim volume captures what it means for brothers and sisters when adulthood unravels the ties of youth. Garance, her sister Lola, their brother Simon and his wife Carine are driving out of Paris to a cousin's wedding in the country, a trip that is set to highlight the differing paths their lives have taken. Yet, while the sense of loss is palpable, Gavalda turns the wheel on the plot to give the family a final shot at recapturing their childhood bonds. "It was time for some sibling swashbuckling – all for one and one for ... and all that jazz"
As with Nick Hornby's fiction, Gavalda's lightness of touch belies an expansive depth of field when detailing romantic and familial relationships. After covering a middle-aged architect's emotional rebuild in last year's Consolation, she has switched gears to create a comic road-movie narrative in which the passage of time acts as a tender reminder to grab life while you can. It's like Ferris Bueller's Day Off played out in the French sticks as Garance et la bande play hooky from life's responsibilities.
Gavalda is particularly astute when detailing the differences between the various family members, and especially the fractious dynamic the two sisters have with their nag of a sister-in-law. "We were probably thinking the same thing, that we had lost our older brother," says Garance. "Why does she speak to him like that? Does she even know who she's talking to? Does she know that the man sitting next to her was the god of scale models? The ace of Meccano sets?"
Carine is as uptight as an over-wound Patek Philippe. She's on the verge of popping a sprocket at each service station loo, over every roadside cafe menu and with the slightest amendment to the laminated schedule. Her every sigh and snip is expertly delivered.
The warmth between Garance and Lola is equally well realised, rooted as it is in their disparate characters. Garance sums it up: "She likes to be 'a little bit tipsy', I prefer to drink; She doesn't like going out, I don't like going home."
And for such a blink of a book there are some fantastic visual portraits (Lola has "eyes as big as Sevres bisque saucers"). Breaking Away is a sweet little number that packs a lot of levity into its brevity and remains echoing in your thoughts for far longer than it takes to read.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 A third of employers never check job applicants' qualifications, survey finds
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians