HUNTING AND GATHERING by Anna Gavalda (Penguin), 488 pages, $20 paper. Rating: NNN
Hunting and Gathering, Anna Gavalda's new Parisian romance novel doesn't stray from the girl-meets-boy formula, and, through the requisite conflicts and sorrows, love holds strong.
The quirky and intelligent characters complicate the convention, and the affair between Camille, the too obviously named waif of a heroine, and Franck, her polished and sensitive brute, is often predictable and overwhelmingly sentimental.
But Gavalda deploys sentiment like a sorceress to arouse the reader's emotions. It's impossible not to get caught up in the drama so skilfully unspooled as the story progresses. Quiet, haunting portraits slowly emerge in a process very like getting to know someone worth knowing.
Camille is an illustrator and painter who has been taught since childhood to capture a person's essence in simple, clean lines. Like her drawings, her relationships with people are sparse and minimalist.
At the outset, Camille is withdrawn and self-destructive, starving her body and suffocating her artistic desires through meaningless, low-wage labour. Weighed down by her past failures at intimacy and by her neglectful mother's hysteria, she can't allow herself to be loved.
Fortunately, she falls for a chef who gets off on fattening her up.
Gavalda's calm, deliberate prose hits its mark squarely, and her dialogue is clever and sharp. Indeed, the conversations between Camille and her friends add lots of colour. But where the writer shines most is in her characters' internal monologues, a source of humour and tenderness throughout as they struggle to sort themselves out.
Gavalda reveals the beauty in awkward moments that could almost happen to you. In fact, she makes you wish they would.