Crossed Lines by Marie Darrieussecq (NetGalley Review)

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4/5 stars

After a not-so-positive exeperience with my first NetGalley book, I was a little hesitant about my next one. But then it turned out to be this absolute beauty of a novel, and my faith is restored.

This is a stream-of-consciousness novel about Rose, a middle-aged French mother who finds herself at surprising intersections within contemporary French culture and the European refugee crisis. While on a Christmas cruise with her children (but her alcoholic, workaholic husband stayed home), a group of migrants in a sinking lifeboat are pulled onboard for shelter. In a moment of confusion that will guide the rest of the narrative, Rose gives her teenage son’s phone to Younes, a refugee from Niger.

This book has a lot to say about home, a sense of place, and identity. Rose is originally from the Basque region and her family later relocates to her old village, seeking a break from Parisian life. Much like other distinct cultural regions like Cornwall and Catalonia, the Basque region of France is struggling to preserve its unique identity as it gets built up as a cosmopolitan resort area. Equally, Darrieussecq takes the time to understand why Younes left Niger and the struggles he has faced in leaving home. This is a sensitive and concise book that explores an extremely complicated situation. It was at times frustrating that it focused on nearly the entire plot through the lens of Rose, a middle-aged white woman, but this gives an important perspective into the mainstream opinions of contemporary France and the generation gap between Rose and her mother, a small character who still has a large impact on the narrative.

The early scenes set on the cruise are so evocative and fantastic–really capturing the abject weirdness of resorts and being in the business of holidays. They pulled me in straight away, maybe in part because we’re still in a world where travel isn’t possible. Rose is troubled by her husband skipping out on the vacation and the emotional outbursts that plague her children–even as a child psychologist in practice, she can’t seem to connect with them. Younes provides what looks like an easy way to bond with a surrogate child, even as the boat pulls away and she thinks she’ll never see him again.

But of course, much like the title implies, their stories aren’t quite over yet, and Rose and Younes are reunited in an unexpected way later in the narrative. What results is a book that sneaks up on you and lodges itself in your brain unlike anything else I’ve picked up this year. The translation by Penny Hueston is very smooth–I don’t get the sense that as much is ‘lost’ in this book as I have felt with other translated fiction. I definitely encourage you to pick this up when it’s released. I suspect it will attract a lot of buzz for the rest of the year.

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CROSSED LINES on Amazon.co.uk:

Crossed Lines will be released in the UK on 29 September 2020. I recieved an advance copy of this work through NetGalley, a site that allows book bloggers and other professionals access to upcoming releases in exchange for an honest review. You can learn more about Net Galley here.

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