A French charmer

The List of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt

Translated by Anthea Bell

list of my desiresAs can be seen from my annual stats review (here if you like that kind of thing!), the country I visited the most to read in translation from last year was France. I suspect that’s going to continue this year too, for I have four more Pascal Garniers, several Fred Vargas, Irène, the follow up to Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex and lighter fare in The President’s Hat by Antoine Lemain all waiting on the front row of my shelves. So it’s fitting that my first translated read of the year was also French, and très charmant it was too. Vive la France!

I fell in love with the embossed buttons on the front cover of this book being a bit of a haberdashery fan – one of my pleasures as a child was sorting out my mum’s button tin, I could spend hours doing that, but I digress. I did wonder whether this book would be a little fluffy, but I was recommended it by one of our parent helpers in the school library, and she is half French as well as a great reader.

Jocelyne has been running a haberdashery shop in the town of Arras in Northern France for over twenty years now.  She has been married for the same length of time to Jo. By coincidence, or is it fate, she married a Jocelyn – a chance in a million. She tells us about her family:

We have two children. Well, three, in fact. A boy, a girl and a corpse.

Nadège was stillborn and it was the only time she’s ever seen Jo so angry, it scared her and the children. It affected their relationship deeply but they are still together, as happy as they can be, she thinks.

Next door to the shop is a hairdressers, run by a pair of twins. Every Friday they lunch together and the twins fill out their lottery tickets, hoping that one day they’ll be lucky, they won enough one year to open their salon. They tell Jocelyne that she should have a go, but she’s resistant.

It’s only in books that you can change your life. Wipe out everything at a stroke. Do away with the weight of things. Delete the nasty parts, and then at the end of a sentence suddenly find yourself on the far side of the world.

One day she gives in a buys a lucky dip ticket for the Euromillions draw – and she wins €18,000,000.

She tells no-one. She uses the pretext of visiting a supplier in Paris to collect her prize. The advisor tells her that her life will never be the same – she must be prepared for everyone to want a piece of her good fortune, including her family.

Life has been looking up lately, Jo is in line for a promotion at the factory where he works, their relationship is better than it was.  The shop is doing well, and her knitting blog is really taking off allowing her to take orders by mail on the side. Her children are settled out in the world. Sure, they could do with more money – she could buy Jo the Porsche he aspires to, but they don’t need it. However, she is drawn to make a list of her desires, how she would spend the money – well who wouldn’t, but their life is fine as it is. She hides the cheque. Life carries on, everyone’s happy – but things do change …

I can’t take you further than the blurb does without spoiling the story. I can tell you that I loved Jocelyne though – she was such a wonderful and complex character. She realises that money can’t buy you love or happiness – she couldn’t bring herself to rip up her ticket or give all the money away anonymously. The fact that the cheque is sitting there, waiting for her to decide what to do eats away at all her insecurities, but she knows that some small changes would be nice – maybe they’ll come naturally, or will she continue to let her life be stifled by circumstance?

This novel is at once heart-warming and heart-breaking. Written in short chapters, it was an easy read in a single session, I couldn’t put it down once I’d started. I crossed my fingers for a good ending, I wouldn’t have been able to bear it if it had been sentimental or fluffy. Phew! It fitted. I can see why this book has been a huge best-seller – it was not as light as it first appeared, and I loved it. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy

The List of my Desires by Grégoire Delacourt, trans Anthea Bell. (2014) Phoenix paperback, 224 pages.

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