Charlie, the young narrator in this family saga, a sequel to Travels with My Family, is excited by the news that his family’s next trip will be to France. That brings thoughts of Paris – climbing the steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking “at the spot where the Hunchback of Notre Dame took the plunge,” taking a boat ride through Paris’s sewers. “Not to mention French Disneyland.” The truth about the proposed trip is less than thrilling for Charlie. The plan is that he, his younger brother Max and their parents – writer dad and artist mum – will spend a year “somewhere in the hills in the southern part of France.” The name of the remote village is Celeriac. “Sell-air-ee-ack,” is how Charlie pronounces the name. “I think,” he says, “that’s some kind of a vegetable. Imagine coming from a village that’s named after a vegetable. And not even a famous one either!”
Of course, getting settled into school and friends and life in general in Celeriac is fraught – and hilariously so – at first, but then Charlie’s sense of dislocation evolves into a sense of belonging, what with mushroom hunting, and collecting chestnuts, village eccentrics, new friends and the Christmas Eve service at the local church whose heretofore unopened door had been used as a goal in the village games of street soccer – such a sense of belonging that the thought of travels farther afield to Spain, for instance, is slightly horrifying.
Embellished with Marie-Louise Gay’s pen-and-ink squiggle drawings, full of good humour, much of which involves the Charlie-Max sibling relationship, and keen observation of Celeriac’s flora, fauna and humans, this novel will hit a home run with almost any reader, but especially one facing a “sabbatical” year away en famille.
The Globe & Mail’s Susan Perren reviewed On the Road Again! on May 31,2008.