Country Focus: France
Hunting and Gathering
By Anna Gavalda
Translated by Alison Anderson
Originally published as Ensemble, c’est tout by Le Dilettante, 2004.
My edition: Riverhead, 2007.
Time period: 2003-2004
Although she is an artist with unlimited potential, Camille Fauque finds herself unable to muster up any inspiration to draw. She ekes out a living as a maid instead. On impulse, she invites her gawky but intriguing neighbor over for a meal in her cramped, drafty attic room. This strange man, Philibert Marquet de La Durbelliere, charms Camille with his ability to call up French history factoids at will and his similarly underachieving occupation as a sidewalk postcard hawker. They part as friends.
On one particularly frigid night several weeks later, Philibert rescues Camille after finding her nearly frozen to death in her icy garret.
He invites Camille to share his temporary digs – his dead grandmother’s sprawling luxury apartment, stuck in inheritance limbo – with him and his boorish roommate, Franck Lestafier. Franck works long hours as a chef and divides the brief remainder of his time visiting his beloved but helpless grandmother and distracting himself with an endless stream of one-night-stands.
Camille, Philibert and Franck make an eclectic and endearing threesome. Gavalda quickly reveals that Camille, Philibert and Franck are beautiful but damaged souls. Victims of cruel parents, they know firsthand that blood relations can drain rather than sustain happiness. The friendship that they form yields a family all its own, with relationships as intense and fulfilling and frustrating as any within a nuclear family (and since there is no legal or genetic code binding them, their jerry-built version is even more precious).
With each page, Gavalda shines a little more light on each of her repressed characters, convincing them to open up to each other and the world. These gradual personality changes make reading Hunting and Gathering akin to watching a timelapse clip of flowers blooming. The warmth of emotion in the former and of the sun in the latter translates through to the audience. This novel is a day-brightener.
“Do you need money?”
Camille should have said no. For twenty-seven years she had been saying no. No, I’m fine. No, but thanks all the same. No, I really don’t need a thing. No, I don’t want to have to owe you. No, no, leave me alone.
Yes. Yes, I think I might. Yes, I won’t be going back to play chambermaid for either the Italians or for Bredart or any of those bastards. Yes, I would like to work in peace for the first time in my life. Yes, I don’t want to have to cringe every time Franck hands me the money for Paulette. Yes, I’ve changed. Yes, I need you. Yes.