First published as L’avant-dernière chance in French in France in 2009. English language translation by Anna Aitken published by Gallic Books in March 2015.
Winner of the Prix Nouveau Talent in 2009 and Prix Chronos in 2011.
One of my WorldReads from France
Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
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How I got this book:
Received a copy from its publisher via NetGalley.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At the age of 83, retired butcher George Nicoleau is about to set off on the greatest adventure of his life. George and his neighbour Charles have long dreamt of a road trip, driving the 3500 kilometres that make up the stages of the Tour de France. And now that George's over-protective daughter has gone to South America, it's time to seize the moment. But just when he feels free of family ties, George's granddaughter Adèle starts calling him from London, and he finds himself promising to text her as he travels around France, although he doesn't even know how to use a mobile. George is plagued by doubts, health worries and an indifference to modern technology. And yet - might the journey still prove to be everything he had hoped for?
George's Grand Tour caught my eye by its marketing towards fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book I enjoyed a couple of years ago. The two do share the similarity of elderly men going on seemingly impossible travels, but where Harold walked off unexpectedly, George and his longtime neighbour, Charles, have spent months planning their epic excursion. They are going to follow in the tyre tracks of the 2008 Tour de France cycle race - in a Renault Scenic.
I found this novel to be surprisingly moving, even welling up a couple of times during the latter pages. Vermalle's characters are well-drawn with even peripheral figures such as Charles' wife Therese being thoroughly believable. As Dave and I are on our own French tour at the moment I easily identified with the wanderlust aspect and was able to draw on my own memories of Carnac and the Emerald Coast to add to the evocative written descriptions. What, on the face of it, appears to be a simple story of George and his London-based grand-daughter, Adele, re-establishing their lost friendship, develops into a emotionally layered tale of memories and loss, with a strong message of the importance of seizing every moment before it is too late.
Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Caroline Vermalle / Humorous fiction / Books from France