by MATTHEW SIMMONS
“Book about friendship in Paris” is what I typed into a Google search when looking for the next novel I could get invested in. After doing some scrolling and fanning through recommendations, I had my sights set on “Hunting and Gathering,” written by French author Anna Gavalda. If I am being honest, there has been a feeling of loneliness in my life as of late—not anything severe, just some sort of longing that I could not seem to remedy. I wanted a book for when I had a long day and wanted to spend my time with other people but was too worn out to be with friends. I knew a character-driven plot about friendship, food and the longing to discover one’s identity would suit well in this situation.
Set in Paris, the story follows the main character, Camille, who works as a cleaner by night and struggles to find who she is by day. Dealing with a broken home life, mental health problems and living in an attic, she needed the world to hand her some sort of crutch. This aid came in the form of a stranger named Philibert, a quiet but intelligent man who comes from a long line of generational wealth. He takes a chance on Camille and invites her into his home, where she remains for a good bulk of the book. Accompanied by Philibert’s blunt and immature roommate Frank, the three begin to coexist despite the clear differences within their ways of life.
The novel has three main parts of its plot: food, location and friendship. As mentioned before, this is a character-driven novel and there isn’t much regarding a conventional plot. However, I realized this was exactly what I was looking for when reading through its pages. Investing my time and emotions into someone else’s life work became a sort of temporary escape from my own. Spanning over five hundred pages, the book offers a complete insight into the lives of these three individuals from an unbiased point of view; I never felt as though I was communicating through a narrator or some sort of third-party commentary. Just like real people, I was presented to them in a direct manner that allowed me to form my own opinions on each and then watch them grow and develop into different people.
What I appreciated was the emphasis Gavalda placed on the little moments in life. There were so many small interactions included throughout the novel and each resulted in a domino effect of their own—big or small. Soon, I realized that this was much more than just a tale of two strangers meeting on the sidewalk; a love story began to develop in front of me. Simultaneously, there were moments of silence and death where the aftermath of Gavalda’s successful juxtaposition of different emotions took me by the hand.
Although I usually prefer smaller reads, I appreciate the opportunities that a lengthier title provides me with. While busy with school and work, I would lose myself in thought, wondering how the main characters were doing and what would be happening to them in the next handful of chapters. I began to care about these fictional characters in a way that I hadn’t before, wanting to see them do well and go beyond my expectations of them—I was hooked.
Every character presented their love and care through a different means of expression. Frank, although seemingly heartless, used food as a way to comfort and communicate with those around him. Philibert, though in his own world, was ever so thoughtful about those who surrounded him. He was always making sure to think about and check on those dear to him. Camille would pull out her watercolor set and begin illustrating the things that became, or would soon become, important to her. Each character, while going through their hardships and lows, was able to produce experiences for one another that helped lighten the load of what we call life.
Gavalda supplied her readers with simple yet elegant writing that was translated from French while still maintaining the meaning and emotion. She reminds us to pay attention to how our friends show love and appreciate that for what it is. If you are someone who adores a character-driven novel, I would highly recommend this title. For anyone who’s still dealing with the anti-social effects of the pandemic, do yourself a favor and give “Hunting and Gathering” a try. Escape to a new country with friends that require nothing from you in return other than getting to experience their stories. I must admit that I did not want to finish and say goodbye to the characters; however, my sad emotions were outshined by the satisfaction I felt after finishing a book that I never once regretted starting.