Breaking Away by Anna Gavalda

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Breaking Away by Anna Gavalda

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A short, entertaining French novella about four grown up siblings reliving happy memories in an impromptu escapade together.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 142 Date: July 2011
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1906040406

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Garance is on her way to a family wedding. In the car with her brother and his wife she thinks about all her siblings, what's happened in their lives and who they have all become. Throughout the journey she finds herself bickering constantly with her sister-in-law who always rubs her up the wrong way, and for the first time Garance senses some tension from her brother too who is usually calm and collected at all times. Is everything okay in his life or is his wife finally beginning to wear his patience thin? They take a detour en route to pick up another sibling, much to Carine's annoyance, and then on reaching the wedding there's a surprise in store for all of them as the four siblings find themselves on an unplanned escape, together once again, rediscovering their youthful selves in a fun, brief break from their real lives.

This isn't really a plot driven novel but it is very observational and humorous. The complexities of familial relationships have been closely observed, and I thought the uncomfortable conversations between Garance and her sister-in-law were very funny to read. Garance isn't the most sympathetic of characters, but I became fascinated by her and found myself intrigued to know more about her family and their lives together. The interplay between the siblings is also interesting, and as we gain more of their history together we begin to understand each of them a little more.

The story has been translated very well with a nice, easy flow to the text. There was one spot near the end of the book which is mostly a list of songs providing a way for the characters to relive the music of their childhood, passing through old memories. I felt it sat a little oddly in the book, like reading a list of the songs on a mix tape - it's only listening to the actual music that you can gain any meaning from it I feel. However, the rest of the book is well written, funny and a little bit off-the-wall. I felt throughout that it would translate well into an French art house film - one of those ones with lots of long, smoky silences as the characters drive through French countryside, and although it's translated into colloquial English it still retains a very French flavour somehow.

It is a very short book, so it's perhaps a tiny bit on the expensive side, but I feel it's still a worthwhile purchase if the premise sounds appealing to you. It's a lovely way to spend a quiet, relaxing afternoon reading in a park or at an outside table of a cafe, eavesdropping on Garance's life for a little while.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: You might like to try another young, contemporary French author: Faiza Guene

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