Today I’m here to tell you about the latest novel I have read: Consolation (La Consolante) by Anna Gavalda. It was the only book I hadn’t read from this French author, who is one of my favourite authors of all time.
As always, the plot is quite simple: Charles, the narrator, is a successful architect who lives with Laurence and their daughter Mathilde in Paris — actually, Mathilde is not his biological daughter but it comes to the same thing. After more than ten years, Charles and Laurence’s relationship is in a bad state. Charles lives his life being on autopilot. Until he finds something that brutally brings him back first to his past, and then to reality. One night, at his parents’ house, he finds an anonymous letter whose handwriting is not hard to recognize: it is a letter from his former best friend and neighbour, Alexis, announcing his mother’s death. Alexis’s mother, Anouk, was Charles’s first love. This brings back an endless flow of memories to the narrator, who cannot stop thinking of his childhood and the years that followed: his brotherly friendship with Alexis, Anouk’s freedom and thoughtlessness, Anouk who helped them to become what they became, his latent and unsatisfied love story with Anouk, the beginning of Alexis’s self-destructive behaviour, the moment when he erased them from his life and so on.
From this moment, everything changes. Charles decides that he has to get back in touch with Alexis. The latter lives in a small village in the middle of the countryside. This trip finally gives more to the narrator than what he had expected, as it allows him not only to accept the past and make peace with Alexis, but also to meet Kate, a young English woman who has committed herself to bring up a bunch of children in a huge and messy farm full of animals.
This novel is probably one of Anna Gavalda’s least successful novels in France. I heard and read quite a lot of disappointed comments about this book from readers who really liked Anna Gavalda’s other novels. But I did enjoy Consolation, a lot. I admit that this is a tough book: it is very slow and features a narrator who is not easy to understand and sympathize with. However, I think that Charles is a likeable character: he is complex, tortured and haunted by his memories and this is what made me feel like liking him. He is a humane character.
The novel is clearly split in two parts: the first part, in which Charles remembers his past in a very disjointed way, and the second part, in which Charles finds his consolation by Kate’s sides. It looks like readers tend to dislike the first part and to fall in love with the second part of the book. As for me, I preferred the first part, because it really moved me. I found it beautifully written: it is chaotic and therefore transcribes perfectly the state Charles is in. Charles also shares his memories with the reader in a very sensitive way, of course. I especially liked how he remembered “Nounou”, the transsexual nanny who was taking care of Alexis and him when Anouk was working and who tragically disappeared from their lives. I liked the complexity of Anouk’s character, her pretending thoughtfulness and the ambiguous love she had for Charles.
I also enjoyed the second part of the book of course. Kate is a colourful character who is nevertheless as broken as the narrator, and whose nonconformist way to bring up “her” children is beautiful and entertaining. However, I found this second part a little bit dull and stereotyped, less deep than the first part in a way.
If you are curious about this novel, I can only recommend you to check it out. I believe that it is worth reading this book if you don’t expect anything from it. If you like action-packed novels, this book is definitely not for you, but if you want to immerse in a surprising, moving and complex reading adventure, then don’t hesitate a single second!
See you next week!
La Consolante by Anna Gavalda. Published by Le Dilettante (2008) and Chatto & Windus (2009) for the English version