[REVIEW] Wanderer by Sarah Léon, translated by John Cullen @OtherPress

Other Press is one of those publishers you love because of their ability to choose and publish brilliant new voices in fiction as well as non-fiction. Wanderer by Sarah Leon was such an interesting and thought-provoking read but not a perfect one.

Wanderer by Sarah Leon is set in France, in a small territory near Bourbonnais Mountains, where we are introduced to Hermin Peyre, a composer who has decided to isolate himself in order to spend his time composing a piece dedicated to Schubert. One wintry night Leonard Wieck, Lenny, shows up on his doorstep after ten years of not having any contact with him. This event will put years of unspoken words and frustrations out in the open for both Hermin and Lenny. They must revisit their past together in order to better understand what happened between them and what kind of damage has been done. What happened between the two? What lies behind their silence?

‘’The fabric of his life had slowly worn itself out during those years of virtual solitude.’’

Leon having written this book at the age of twenty-one amazes me. Not only because of the fact that she was twenty-one but because of the way she crafts sentences and how she perceives certain things. The way music and certain musical pieces were intertwined within the story was beautiful and Leon combining music with winter made me feel like I was right there with Hermin and Lenny. Both characters are very flawed and interesting. Our story is told from Hermin’s POV which revisits the past and the present in each chapter so we get almost a full picture of what happened. Since the book is told from Hermin’s POV and since Lenny is his guest, Leon makes us a part of Hermin because we experience everything from his perspective – it feels as though we have welcomed a long lost friend into our home and are experiencing all of the consequences that this brings. What I found most enjoyable was the language in the story and the way Leon creates them which are all wonderfully translated from French by John Cullen. The translator did a fantastic job! The story is something I found to be weak – although the ‘ghosts of the past’ came to haunt both characters I felt as though the story could’ve been thought-out better. I get the decision behind bringing Lenny back after ten years of silence but I felt dissatisfied in a way because of the way the story went. I hope this makes sense to people who have read it but the story felt predictable to me. Wanderer being Leon’s debut novel shows to me that she has a lot of skill and I’m excited to see what she comes up with in the future. I feel like what Leon fell short on [for me] she made up by the way she wrote this novel.

‘’I’d looked at him helplessly. I’d never had any gift for consoling people – I could listen to them talk about their trouble, sure, but then how to find the right words? And this particular case seemd to be precisely the sort about which there was nothing to say; no phrases would have the power to cushion the blow that had just struck him. But in spite of all that, I was required to say something…’’

Wanderer explores the psychological effects of what long periods of silence do to a friendship and what damage they may cause.

If you’re someone who likes their reads to be more on the psychological side then I definitely recommend this book.

I would like to thank the publisher Other Press (NY) for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own and weren’t influenced by the fact that I got this book from the publisher.

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Gérard Cambon-Éditions Héloïse

Sarah Léon was born in 1995 and studied literature and musicology at the École normale supérieure in Paris. She won the 2012 Prix Clara for her novella, Mon Alban.

Find her on: Publisher’s website and Goodreads.

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