This is my review of La liste de mes envies (Littérature française) (French Edition) by Grégoire Delacourt.
“How can you do such a disgusting job – I work in advertising – and write such lovely books?” This sentence in the gushing postscript to the French version of this short novel explains the growing sense of unease I had experienced when reading it. This story is a marketable product pitched at female readers by an author with a knack for adopting the “voice” of “ordinary”, admittedly somewhat stereotyped, women, and for identifying an intriguing situation on which to build a bitter-sweet scenario.
In this case we have Jocelyne, owner of a small haberdashery in Arras, slipping into slightly overweight middle age with the dull and on occasion boorish husband she still seems to love, with two now adult children who have “flown the nest”. She seems to have had more than her fair share of misfortune: the loss of her mother and her father’s onset of illness when she was still a teenager put paid to her youthful ambitions, leaving her with low self esteem and a nagging sense of having made too little of her life. Into this rather unpromising situation falls the bolt from the blue of a huge lottery win, raising the dilemma we all share as to how we would spend this, if given the chance. Jocelyne’s periodic “wish lists” – progressing from “a lamp for the hall table” to “spend a fortnight in London with my daughter”, highlight the common inability to think on a grand enough scale, particularly if one is accustomed to put one needs second. Eventually, she only lists a Porsche as a “folly” that will please her husband.
There are some interesting aspects to the story: her fear that the money will destroy what is good in her life, her awareness that the most valuable things in life cannot be bought with money, that the planning of purchases over time can be more satisfying than a huge spending spree, money no object. The presumably intentional irony is that her knitting and sewing blog which costs nothing does more good in the world than the huge cheque she has won. Is it also intentional irony that the man she loves is so unworthy of her devotion, or are we meant to think that love itself is simply what counts more than money?
In the end, the novel disappoints by proving too shallow and sentimental, aptly described by the wonderful French word “guimauve” – marshmallows and mushiness. The two main male characters – husband and shadowy male love interest – are both too underdeveloped to be convincing and the plot drifts to a limp and disappointing ending.