24 January 2016

Grégoire Delacourt: La Liste de mes envies | The Wish List (2012)

This is a very simple book written in a very simple language, at 183 pages is easily readable in a few hours, and coming to this after reading the superlative La Splendeur dans l'herbe by Patrick Lapeyre it gave me the impression of being far inferior. Or was I just influenced by the fact that a little Googling showed that this is a very popular book that has also been filmed? 'Popular' to me has a nasty smell to it.

Well, I couldn't help asking myself if I was reading a kind of chicklit for an older generation. The 47-year-old Jocelyne Guerbette owns a fabric shop in Arras and is married to a male Jocelyn who works in a Häagen-Dazs factory with no loftier ambitions than becoming a foreman there. Jocelyne also runs a successful blog, the advertising revenue from which allows her to employ a member of staff.

And then comes a moment of wonder, when Jocelyne wins 18.5 million euros on the lottery but keeps quiet about it, telling not a soul. She doesn't even arrange a bank transfer, but initially keeps the cheque hidden in an old shoe in her wardrobe. Things carry on as normal and she continues to see her Alzheimer-struck father, work in the shop and have good sex with husband Jocelyn, who has stopped drinking alcoholic beer since the still-birth of their child, who followed their now grown-up kids: Nadine, the go-ahead film-preoccupied daughter living in the UK, and Romain, the feckless, unambitious tail-chasing son. And Jocelyn carries on his factory work, dreaming of a super-duper new car and a complete set of James Bond DVDs.

Until Jocelyne's world crumbles when she finds that her loving husband has discovered the winnings and run off to spend it: all that is required is for him to skilfully scratch out a letter 'e' at the end of the first name on his wife's cheque and the money is his. Jocelyne, devastated, leaves the shop and uses what money she has to stay in Nice, away from any lingering sights, smells or whatever of the man she used to share her life with.

Meanwhile Jocelyn goes to exotic Belgium because he can't speak any language other than French and obviously has a very limited imagination. He goes back on the beer, this time super strength, finds no friends, finds no joy with the prostitutes, yearns for the life he threw away, and returns Jocelyn's money in a cheque in a letter, minus the 3 million he's already blown in about a year. But he's blown more than money, Jocelyne doesn't reply, and the police in Belgium will later discover her husband's neglected, stinking remains.

So Jocelyn buys a house, lives with a guy she met when married but didn't yield to temptation because she loved her husband at the time, although now she can't feel the same about love. Ever again.

Money doesn't buy happiness then? Is that just the trite message of this disappointing book? In the Afterword, Grégoire Delacourt seems very happy with his readers who say that their lives have been changed because of his book. There's no self-satisfaction on his part though, of course, he's very happy that the book's so successful, been made into a film, etc. I'm sure he's immensely happy about all the money he's made too, although naturally he doesn't mention it as that would appear to contradict the message.

I'm nevertheless  grateful to Delacourt for reminding me that I really must get down to reading Albert Cohen's Belle du Seigneur, but as for La Liste de mes envies, no, give me Patrick Lapeyre any day: that man knows what desire is. And Lapeyre can write really well too.

No comments: