Five girlfriends in the wind

Before summer

by Claudie Gallay

Actes Sud, 546 p., € 22

Everyone knows each other in the small town. And we must be wary of the sleeping water: it seems that nothing is happening and yet everything is teeming with life, heightened feelings, dreams and projects. They are five, at the dawn of a life to be modeled, no longer really teenagers, not yet quite adults. In the 1980s, May 68 left its mark, but the horizon did not necessarily widen. “I look at the city. The air is humid. The sky is white. A bird sings at the end of the roof. My space is limited to where my eyes are. From this space I know everything ”, confides one of them.

It is not an initiatory novel, rather the discovery of an existence which is forged according to the events, the meetings, the moods of the moment. Jess becomes the registrar and narrator of this group of friends who decides to prepare for the talent competition that will take place at the Spring Festival, just before summer. And to get creative, the five have a fashion show concocted. We will have to do with scraps of fabric and moods.

The beautiful Juliette, convinced of her charm, is still waiting. And there is also Camille, Boucle d’Or who runs the ANPE counter, Broussaille the apprentice baker… Temperaments rub shoulders, and each plays its part, at the risk of some dissonance. At the time of flight, these young women wait, hope: “We should be more careful, not leave so many things to chance, (…) which makes lives not really up to the task and a little muddled. “

The girls start sewing, reveal themselves and have fun, while the habits of a life without surprises are hampered by the arrival of Madame Barnes, original and whimsical owner who recruits Juliette to her service, soon replaced by Jess . Nothing like it to stir up jealousy, while the old lady envies their youth: “I wasted so many days waiting for tomorrow. While tomorrow was here, in my hands, in the beauty of the flowers that I breathed. “ At her age, Madame Barnes is still looking for herself, while “If you’re where you need to be, nothing bad can happen. “

From secrets to secrecy, big girls share their dreams and desires: “I don’t want a guy, I want real love. “ These artichoke hearts ignite and then worry: ” You must be patient. Sometimes things happen when you stop waiting for them. Or it’s other things that happen to us, by surprise, and then our lives change, nothing is like before. “

All it takes is nothing, like, for example, a photo taken on a stormy evening, for Juliette to think of herself as a star: “Juliette is my friend but she can be hurtful. She has always been like that, to follow her life as she wants ”, summarizes Jess. And when Broussaille is pregnant, everyone understands that one day you have to become an adult, that is to say, leave the comfort of friendships to live her life … Without illusions, especially with men: “The tragedy is that we talk a lot but that we say nothing …”

Nothing like the girlfriends to philosophize. Each is based on its ability to go beyond the hassle of everyday life to try to see further: “Joy is a very lively feeling, intense, violent, but it falls quickly. (…) Grief is like joy, lively, but it doesn’t last, while sadness is a state that sets in over time. “

In more than five hundred pages, Claudie Gallay also takes advantage of the length to create a special atmosphere, to let ambivalent feelings rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis, to finally say, according to events, what friendship, adult life, and the women’s hearts. The chapters are so many impromptu sketches on the public stage where everyone lives more or less under the gaze of others. With a precise and tender pen, the author of Breaking waves brings us into the intimacy of its village heroines. Time is suspended, as before summer: “There are days that are like the days before. Easy days, with nothing new. And there are days like this. ” So anything can happen.


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