Someone I Loved by Anna Gavalda

Review published on December 16, 2017.

I was moved by this beautiful little tale of love and life’s slings and arrows by French author Anna Gavalda. Someone I Loved is intelligent and insightful and perfect for a winter afternoon curled up in a chair in the warm. It’s a story about coming to terms with being abandoned. Our sympathy is with Chloé, devastated by her partner’s betrayal. She was unaware of his propensity to wound and to let her down. Of course, nothing is black and white where two people in a relationship are concerned. Blame, guilt and hurt are not exclusive to the either partner and that nuance is explored by Gavalda. I loved this novella for its acute understanding of relationships and sympathy for people caught up in the aftermath of a marriage breakdown. There is something of all of us in these characters and something of all our lives in their situation. Someone I Loved gets the fragility of the emotional connection between lovers. Not only is Gavalda scrupulously fair but she constantly surprises the reader with way the story unfolds.

Someone I Loved is a tale of marriage – warts and all – explored through the conversations between Chloe, the abandoned wife, and her previously distant father-in-law, Pierre. The novella lays bare the workings of the heart and at times it’s a heart-breaking read. Yet the subtlety makes you reconsider what you have previously gleaned time and time again.

Chloé is a Parisienne with two beautiful little girls facing up to the fact that her husband has left her for a younger woman. She is angry because she never imagined it could happen. Chloé is sad and hurt and she can’t stop crying. A strange rescue from her new solitude comes in the form of her father-in-law. Pierre drives to Paris to pick up Chloé and the children and bring them back to the village where her husband grew up. Chloé assumes her father-in-law has a motive of his own, perhaps to atone for the terrible actions of his son. Yet she finds some solace in his actions, he is attentive to the girls and he is keen to help her get over her despair. Both have made trite assumptions about each other in the past that are smashed when the two sit and talk the night away. Pierre is determined to help Chloé see a way out of the funk she is in before she plans to leave and take the children back to the city.

The conversation they have is frank and revealing. Both are forced to see things from a different perspective and layers are peeled away baring the soul. How much Pierre helps Chloé I leave to you to decide but anyone who has been in a failed relationship will recognise something of it here. For those who have experienced being cheated on some of this may still be a bit raw but ultimately healing.

Seeing the two characters sharing pasta and a bottle of wine and talking I could almost imagine this as a play, a two hander of some intensity. A story of desire, fulfilment and coming to terms with failure without equating that with being a failure. All told in elegant and simple prose.

Anna Gavalda is revered in France, I hope that she becomes better known in English. I had a two hour train journey yesterday and I used it to pick up this novella in a charity shop (something I might not normally read). I got on the train, settled down and opened the book, I didn’t notice the time fly. I was on the last page as we pulled into my station. I would have no hesitation in recommending Anna Gavalda to individuals or to readers groups. I can see Someone I Loved sparking a lively debate either in your own mind or among a group of people.

Paul Burke 4/5

Someone I Loved by Anna Gavalda
Gallic Books 9781908313027 hbk May 2012


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