CHATTO & WINDUS £12.99 (473pp) £11.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Hunting and Gathering, by Anna Gavalda, trans Alison Anderson

Our caring, sharing friends in a candidly cute Paris

In 2004, Hunting and Gathering was, along with The Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter 5, one of those books you kept seeing in the Paris metro during rush hour, its thirtysomething, mainly female, readers alternately smiling or dabbing moist eyes. With sales of half a million in France, and translated into 30 languages, the novel is now being filmed with Da Vinci star Audrey Tatou.

Would a synopsis explain such success? Let's try. Downwardly mobile Camille Fauque has abandoned an artistic career to work as a cleaning lady in an office. Living in a tiny, freezing seventh-floor walk up, she's on the verge of collapse, suicide even. Anorexic, she is saved by her neighbour Philibert Marquet de la Durbellière. Handicapped by an alarming name and worshipful of his anti-Republican ancestors, the aristocratic Philibert is out of touch with modern life, but his bad stammer, and his job selling postcards, makes him more an amiable nincompoop than a far-right crank.

Camille moves into his vast apartment full of Wedgewood porcelain and Third Empire armchairs, but has to reckon with the lodger, cordon-bleu cook Franck Lestafier. Working-class Franck is a skirt-chasing ogre, thinks Camille "looks like a bloke", but surely his effing and blinding is just a front? He too has been damaged by a miserable childhood. Also, his beloved grandmother Paulette is dying in a grim old people's home. Camille suggests she move in too.

Will Franck overcome his aggression and woo Camille back to life with proper food? Will Philibert master his stammer? Who will fall in love first? Each short chapter of this fairy tale/soap ends with a tiny emotional rush as the protagonists accumulate victories over their trauma and learn to love one another.

Paulette teaches Camille to make decent soup, Franck learns to respect the nerdy Philibert, who battles his shyness by becoming a clown. It's all very slow, and sometimes the translation can be strange. The "upper vaults of Père Lachaise" must denote tombs on the cemetery's heights. And a sentence like "the pedestal of the genius on the Bastille" must refer to the Spirit of Liberty statue which tops the column there.

No matter. Gavalda has said she writes "for people who don't like reading". Which is just as well. An old Chinese man "is jabbering and laughing to himself", a beggar has an "outstretched hand and a whiny plea", locals in a village are "stereotypical country folk". This is shorthand, and somewhat snobbish. Similarly, Gavalda's Paris is a city where the immigrants with whom Camille works are overweight, with big life-affirming laughs, so trivial that you half wish the suburbs would rise up again.

It's not all comedy: Paulette dies, and life goes on. But wait - she first bequeaths Camille the country house of her dreams, "with a copper pot for making jam" and "a well kept little garden". Such middle-class longing calls to mind the closing of Voltaire's Candide, where the hero exhorts us to cultivate our gardens. But Voltaire was pulling our leg. Candide is a starry-eyed idiot whose idealism is dashed to bits by the horrors of absolutist Europe. His resignation is inevitable. With Gavalda, resignation, a longing for stasis, is a virtue. That she has a worldwide audience suggests she has tapped into a mood which many people share.

Gerry Feehily's translation of Pavel Hak's 'Sniper' is published by Serpent's Tail

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests