Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: December 3, 2019
by Inès Cagnati, a new translation from the French and with an introduction by Liesl Schillinger
An NYRB Classics Original
December 2019 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.
In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a journey she makes every two weeks, forty miles round trip, traveling between opposite poles of ambition and guilt, school and home. Galla’s loving, overwhelmed, incompetent mother doesn’t want her to go to school; she wants her to stay at home, where Galla can look after her neglected little sisters, defuse her father’s brutal rages, and help with the chores. What does this dutiful daughter owe her family, and what does she owe herself? In Inès Cagnati’s haunting, emotionally and visually powerful novel Free Day, which won France’s Prix Roger Nimier in 1973, Galla makes an extra journey on a frigid winter Saturday to surprise her mother. As she anticipates their reunion, stopping often to pry caked, gelid mud off her bicycle wheels, she mentally retraces the crooked path of her family’s past and the more recent map of her school life as a poor but proud student. Galla’s rich, dense interior monologue blends with the landscape around her, building a powerful portrait of a girl who yearns to liberate herself from the circumstances that confine her, without losing their ties to her heart.schillinger
Galla’s interior monologue unspools as she cycles, gradually revealing the daily miseries and notable occurrences of her life. Like Holden Caulfield, she’s critical of adult hypocrisies, resenting "godmothers [who] never give us anything," but alive to the possibilities of the natural world. Readers will be invested in this young woman’s demand for dignity.
In Free Day Inès Cagnati shows herself to be a remarkable storyteller who is also an explorer of the psychological depths. Her terse words capture her young character’s inner struggle and grief. There is something both of Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield here.
The reader’s heart aches right from the start of Free Day. The tone is sober, yet intimate. The world of the book is claustrophobic, the heroine’s situation unbearably moving, the storytelling almost devilishly deft. Is it a masterpiece? It is certainly a revelation.