Gavalda (stories: I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere, 2004, etc.) offers up a minimalist first novel as compelling as it is slight.
Chloe, the mother of two young daughters, has just learned that her husband, Adrien, is leaving her for another woman. Over the protests of her mother-in-law, Suzanne, her heretofore remote father-in-law, Pierre, bundles the shaken Chloe and children into his car and drives them from Paris to his country house. Chloe is raw and desperate. It’s the first time she has been alone with her father-in-law, until now distant and undemonstrative. At the house, she still feels fragile, uncertain, suspended, but Pierre shops and cooks for her, serving her his finest wines. The two develop an unexpected intimacy, and the latter part of the story consists mostly of a dialogue between them. Chloe describes her pain, and he tells her about his own affairs, and about the moment when his wife confronted him but confessed she was too fond of the comforts his income brought to leave him. He tells her of Mathilde, the translator he met in Hong Kong and was involved with for years. He describes how he might have left Suzanne for Mathilde if it hadn’t been for his secretary, whose husband left her around that time, transforming a dependable employee into a distraught woman. He reveals to Chloe that watching his secretary suffer this betrayal convinced him that he should stick with his wife and family rather than cause a breakup. In retrospect, he has regrets. Clearly, he is vicariously aware that Chloe and Adrien are setting forth on the path he never had the courage to take. “I would rather see you suffer a lot today than suffer a little bit for the rest of your life,” he tells Chloe.
Intense and immediate as a late-night conversation between lovers, this should draw readers to the bestselling Gavalda.