Review: Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda

Prize-winning author Anna Gavalda has galvanized the literary world with an exquisite genius for storytelling. Here, in her epic new novel of intimate lives-and filled with the “humanity and wit” (Marie Claire) that has made it a bestselling sensation in France-Gavalda explores the twists of fate that connect four people in Paris. Comprised of a starving artist, her shy, aristocratic neighbor, his obnoxious but talented roommate, and a neglected grandmother, this curious, damaged quartet may be hopeless apart, but together, they may just be able to face the world.
Anna Gavalda has a wonderfully infuriating way of writing like so…
Making your eyes flitter down the page.
Making your heart bat harder with each revelation.
Until she concludes a thought.
Like this.
With oh-so-much meaning.

Her writing is more alive than most, an especially impressive feat since I’ve read her work in French, not English, and I lose myself and die a thousand readerly deaths much more often when reading in French. But her words flow inevitably forward. If, as many authors have proclaimed, the goal of a writer is to get the reader to read the next sentence, and the next, and the next, Anna Gavalda is nothing short of a genius. Myself and others may be tempted to label this short, direct style as cutesy and simplistic, but it’s gosh darn compelling, if we’re being frank.

Less compelling, however, is the story behind the words. We have a nearly plotless novel here; all that happens is outlined in the blurb, apparent from the initial chapters, and fated by the gods of storytelling. Nothing much occurs and what does occur does not surprise. The four characters–a ragtag team beaten by the world who will find happiness in their shared ruins and slowly rebuild each other–are terrific sketches, but what they do is nowhere near as passionate as Gavalda’s prose. I’ve only previously read Gavalda’s slam-dunk short story collection, I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere, which hides this weakness of hers. Petite novelettes are perfect for her character-centric writing; this novel of nearly 600 pages was vast and vacant, the winds of disinterest blew through its empty and tired intrigues.

And yet.
That writing.
Heavy on punctuation, on labelling feelings, on fragmenting thoughts.
It pulled me through.

(I’ll stop now.)

But this pathetic attempt at imitation shows how much her words tumbled and scattered in my brain. Gavalda might not tell the stories that I want to read, but she tells them in the way I want to read them.

3.5 out of 5 stars


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