Book Review: French Braid by Anne Tyler

About the Book:

The major new novel from the beloved prize-winning author — a brilliantly perceptive, painfully true, and funny journey deep into one family’s foibles, from the 1950s right up to the changed world of today.

When the kids are grown and Mercy Garrett gradually moves herself out of the family home, everyone is determined not to notice.

Over at her studio, she wants space and silence. She won’t allow any family clutter. Not even their cat, Desmond.

Yet it is a clutter of untidy moments that forms the Garretts’ family life over the decades, whether that’s a painstaking Easter lunch or giving a child a ride, a fateful train journey or an unexpected homecoming.

And it all begins in 1959, with a family holiday to a cabin by a lake. It’s the only one the Garretts will ever take, but its effects will ripple through the generations.

Published by Penguin Random House Australia – Chatto & Windus

Released 29th March 2022

My Thoughts:

Anne Tyler. What is there to even say? There is truly no other author out there like her. I always feel a bit useless writing a review on an Anne Tyler novel, to be honest, because I always love them, and the nature of her writing gives little room for commentary. As with all her previous novels, French Braid has no plot to speak of, but is instead a deep character study of the members of the Garrett family through the generations. This is of course what I love most about Anne Tyler – that she can pull us into the everyday and hold us so entirely captivated for the duration. Because as with all her families, there is much to recognise within, as well as much to contemplate and think over.

‘Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to spoil the picture of how things were supposed to be!’

The title of this novel bears a great deal of significance and is explained right before it ends. I don’t think it’s a spoiler if I elaborate on it here, and really, it explains so much about the novel and will give you an insight into what it’s about. One of the characters likens family to the unravelling of a French braid. How the braid leaves the hair rippled for a long time after. He points out that this is similar to how families work, tightly woven for a period and then once unravelled, the ripples remain, crimped in forever. I absolutely love that. I come from a big family, a vast number of cousins, some of which I am in contact with, none of which I actually ever see, due to distance mostly. But the ripples are still there, and we are still crimped together by our shared experiences, even if we probably do all view them differently from each other.

If you’re a fan of Anne Tyler, this novel will not disappoint. If you’ve never read her before (people like this exist?) then consider this your starting place. She is, as ever, stunning, and delivers another brilliant read.

☕☕☕☕☕

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

17 thoughts on “Book Review: French Braid by Anne Tyler

  1. We’ll agree to disagree on Anne Tyler 🙂 I totally understand why people love her work, but I find her style a little bland (not sure why, I can’t put my finger on it). I have picked up her books here and there over the years and although I wouldn’t have bothered with this one, I was interested to note that the cover is in quite a different style to her last few books. New publicist seeking a new audience?

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    • The Australian edition (pictured here) is in the same style to her others that I have on my shelf (white border with photograph) but the cover they had on Goodreads was really different – is that the one you mean?
      Despite loving her work so much, I’ll acknowledge that it would definitely not be for everyone. Bland is probably the right word, you’ve really got to like that sort of thing. There are people I know who I just wouldn’t press an Anne Tyler onto. But for me, her novels are perfection.

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      • I actually meant the cover you have shown – it seems stronger than the soft-toned art/ photos that I think of when I think of Tyler – clearly I haven’t noticed any of her books in the last few years!

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      • I had another look after your comment. They seem to have made the photo smaller so there’s more white and by setting the title and author onto the white, instead of directly onto the photo like the others, it does come off bolder. Same but different principle. I still recognised it as a classic Anne Tyler cover, but it is a bit altered.

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    • Yes me too, Kate.
      I had to check at Goodreads to see which book I’d read which had left me with the same impression, it was The Accidental Tourist. I have nothing bad to say about it, just that I read it back in 2003 and it obviously didn’t make an impression that made me look for more.
      But hey, reading tastes are as different as people are, and I say that’s a good thing:)

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      • Many people have told me that The Accidental Tourist was the first and only Tyler they read and that it made them never want to read her again. For me, I think coming to Anne Tyler in my 40s has made for a more rewarding read. I can’t imagine I would have liked her work as much 20 years ago, bland, as Kate mentioned, would have definitely been a factor. But where I am now, it’s more comfort than bland. But there are layers to her work, depths that really get you when you least expect it.
        But you are right, different tastes makes for more robust book talk!

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  2. Goodness, I used to be such a huge Anne Tyler fan and have many of her earlier works but until I saw your review, I had no idea how many of her books I’ve missed reading. This has now prompted me to revisit her latest releases starting with this one first I think.

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  3. I’m a fan too Theresa and just started reading this last night. I totally get her ‘bland’ families, except for me I understand all too well their angst and torment and don’t find it bland at all. She has captured the nuance of these cold families that don’t communicate well, perfectly. It’s not that they’re unloving, they just don’t know how to show it or talk about it, so all these painful little moments keep them apart and hinder their relationships. Her stories usually leave me feeling rather raw, but in a cathartic way.

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  4. I have mixed feelings about this one. The author shines an intelligent light on families, which offers food for thought. But I was thrown by the pace of the book. I felt it sagged a bit in the middle. I wasn’t sure where it was going, nor what story it was trying to tell. And then it started jumping forward by huge chunks of time, leaving me a bit breathless. I’m a little bewildered. I suspect if I reread it, it would make more sense, but too many other things to read!

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