Review: Vanda by Marion Brunet, trans. Katherine Gregor

Synopsis

Set in Marseilles, this is the story of Vanda, a beautiful woman in her thirties, arms covered in tats, skin so dark that some take her for a North African. Devoted to her six-year-old son Noé, they live in a derelict shed by the beach. She had wanted to be an artist; she is now a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital. But Vanda is happy living alone with her boy. “The two of them against the world”, as she says. Everything changes when Simon, the father of her son, surfaces in Marseilles. He had left Vanda seven years earlier, not knowing that she was pregnant. When Simon demands custody of his son, Vanda’s suppressed rage threatens to explode. The tension becomes unbearable, both parents fully capable of extreme violence.

About The Author and Translator

Author: Marion Brunet, born in 1976, is a well-known Young Adult and Literary Fiction author in France. Her YA novels have received over 30 prizes, including the 2017 UNICEF Prize for Youth Literature. Marion has previously worked as a special needs educator and now writes her fiction in Marseilles.
Vanda follows on from the success of Summer of Reckoning (ISBN 978-1912242-269/£8.99) and is her second work to be translated into English.
Translator: Katherine Gregor lives in London and has recently translated works by Alexander Pushkin from the Russian and plays by Carlo Goldoni and Luigi Pirandello from the Italian.

My Thoughts

Firstly, thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for a copy of the book with a request for an honest review.

I must admit that I wasn’t grabbed by Vanda at the start and it took me until I was over half way through to really get into the groove of the story. I think the reason for this is there is a lot of scene setting and delving into the characters rather than a fast-paced plot. By the end of the book, it felt as though the whole blurb had summed up what happened in the book, but in reality there was so much more than that. So, if you enjoy a book which is based around characters, this is up your street. It reminded me of Lullaby by Leila Slimani in its style and social commentary so if you enjoyed Lullaby, Vanda should definitely be added to your TBR.

What Vanda does really well is explore the pitfalls of modern French society. The book really picked up for me at a part where Vanda started to explore in inequalities of fixed term contract domestic workers who typically come from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Given I have a degree in Modern Languages, I was captivated by the book at this point and it made for some salient social commentary.

I still can’t quite make up my mind about how much I enjoyed reading Vanda. From an entertainment point of view, I needed more action. I felt pity for the characters but couldn’t really root for any expect Vanda’s son who is caught in the middle of many poor decisions. Nonetheless, if I spent some time studying some of the themes a bit more, I definitely think that I could get into this book.

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