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 countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle twenty miles, twice a month, from the high school she attends on scholarship back to her family’s rocky, barren farm. Galla’s loving, overwhelmed mother would prefer she stay at home, where Galla can look after her neglected little sisters and defuse her father’s brutal rages. What does this dutiful daughter owe her family, and what does she owe her own ambition? In Inès Cagnati’s haunting and visually powerful novel Free Day, winner of the 1973 Prix Roger Nimier, Galla makes an extra journey one frigid winter Saturday to surprise her mother. As she anticipates their reunion, 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 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.