It seems ironic to choose this cliched aphorism as a title to compliment a book, but Anna Gavalda wrote this novel as if she were painting. Hunting and Gathering has, ostensibly, no plot; it’s a character piece, a window into the lives of four main characters living together in Paris over the course of a few months, and a loving observation of their relationships and effects on each other.
One of the main characters, Camille, is, herself, a painter. She’s very talented, and her portraits are alleged to be raw and honestly revealing as to their subjects’ stories and characters. Gavalda’s “show, don’t tell” approach to writing seems to be born of an appreciation for visual artists, who can say so much with one piece, and as such, the author’s evident admiration for Camille’s talent manifests in her character’s quiet magnetism that so profoundly affects the other characters in the story.
A lone wolf for many reasons which become clear throughout the story, Camille eventually opens up to Philibert, a nervous, stuttering man who lives in her building and with whom Camille feels an awkward, ‘outsiders’ kinship.
Also in orbit is Franck, a talented chef who lives with Philibert and passively allows his boss to take advantage of his skill by lacking the confidence in himself to strive for more prestigious positions. Paulette, Franck’s grandmother and the woman who raised him, is also an important player, with her independence and heartbreaking denial of the physical disabilities developing with her age.
And that’s it. That’s the plot. These four people are thrown into the mix and left to stew, and while the results are not gripping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat entertainment, they are subtly lovely. The pace is slow, but as a compassionate sketch of what happens when a group of misfits finds each other, Hunting and Gathering is a great success.