Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 13, 2015

The List of My Desires, by Grégoire Delacourt, translated by Anthea Bell

The List of My Desires I’m reading LiteratureLite at the moment because I need something else that’s new to read while I’m re-reading the books for my session on November 22 at the Stonnington [Untitled] Literary Festival.  (I finished Angela Meyer’s Captives last week, and I’ve just finished Jane Rawson’s award-winning A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (see my previous review and a Sensational Snippet) and I’m just about to start Alec Patric’s Black Rock White City (see my review). (There are still some tickets left if you want to come, but you’d better book soon. It’s free, click here.)

So, The List of My Desires, the ‘international bestselling sensation’ by French author Grégoire Delacourt, appealed to me a when I stumbled on it at the library.  It had the added attraction of being translated by Anthea Bell, who is pre-eminent in her field.

It’s a curious blend of the sentimental and the cynical, written from a female point-of-view by a male author.  I have reservations about this narration which necessitate spoilers…

BEWARE: SPOILERS

The novel is the story of a plump, placid haberdasher called Jocelyne who wins 18 million-odd euros from a chance entry in the lottery and is betrayed by her husband.  Before the win, she is reasonably content with her ordinary life, and because of the dire warnings from lottery management about the pitfalls of such a large win, she chooses not to tell Jo, her husband, and hides the cheque in a shoe in her wardrobe.  While she draws up lists of potential purchases with her windfall, her husband finds the cheque and disappears with it to buy the things he’s always wanted (posh car, expensive watch, a big TV etc).  She grows bitter, loses weight, abandons her shop and her thriving craft blog, and mooches about feeling betrayed and melancholy until eventually she gets a cheque for the balance of 15 million-odd euros from her sadder-and-wiser husband and makes a new life for herself.  The book concludes with her statement that she is loved, but that she herself no longer loves.

The sentimental, anti-consumerist, be-happy-with-your-lot message that money can’t buy happiness is laid on thick:

I loved my life.  I loved the life that Jo and I had made.  I loved the way that ordinary things became beautiful in our eyes.  I loved our simple, comfortable, friendly house.  I loved our garden, our modest little vegetable plot, the pathetic tomatoes on the vine it gave us.  I loved hoeing the frozen ground with my husband.  I loved our dreams of next spring. I was waiting with all the enthusiasm of a young mother to be a grandmother one day; I tried my hand at lavish cakes, gourmet pancakes, rich chocolate desserts. I wanted to have the scents of my own childhood in our house, with different photographs on the wall.  (p.144)

She loves her virtual world too:

I loved my thousands of Isoldes who read tengoldfingers. I loved their kindness, calm and powerful like a river flowing along, a regenerating force like a mother’s love. I loved that community of women, our vulnerabilities, our strengths.

I loved my life deeply, but the moment that I won the lottery I knew that the money would wreck it all, and for what?

But notice here how ungenerous this list of potential purchases is?  Wanting is a character flaw in this novel, and the wants are all banal and insular:

For a bigger vegetable plot? Larger, redder tomatoes? A new variety of tangerine? A larger, more luxurious house; a whirlpool bath? A Porsche Cayenne?  A round-the-world cruise? A gold watch, diamonds? Enhanced breasts? A nose job? No, no and no again. I already had what money can’t buy but can only destroy. (p. 145)

Imagine having 18 million euros and not thinking of the good you could do with it!  She plans to burn the cheque rather than do something useful with all that money… Sure, she does consider that she could do something for her children, and with her remaining 15 million at the end of the book she plans eventually to give one million of it to someone at random, but there’s no plan to endow a worthwhile fund or donate to charity in France or anywhere else.

The happiness that Jocelyne eulogises seems an authorial fantasy to me.  The reason why she rejects the money is because she doesn’t trust this husband, not even enough to tell him about it.  He has, at times, been brutal and cruel, and she’s tolerated it.  Theirs is not a marriage of equals: she is smarter than him and has more initiative.  She doesn’t see her adult children much: the boy left after a row and hasn’t been seen since, and the daughter lives in London.   She is haunted by memories of her mother’s sudden death in the street, and her father is senile in a nursing home and barely knows who she is.  A lot of her life is dull and compromised…

So, we have an author who creates a portrait purporting to be inside the mind of a devoted wife who fears that the flaws in her husband will lead to misery if they have money.  His character Jocelyn is a wife with brains and initiative who forgives a brutal man because she still loves him despite his vanity, his cruelty, his selfish wants and his inane conversation.  The man, set up to fail, does so, and is punished with a distasteful death.  This is kitsch-lit, IMO, contrived to give book groups something to discuss – and lo! there are the questions at the back of the book…

  • What would you have done if you were in Jocelyn’s shoes? If you had cashed the cheque, what would you have spent the money on?
  • How would you describe Jocelyn’s relationship with her husband, Jo?
  • Why is Jo unfulfilled by his new life as a millionaire?

As LiteratureLite, The List of My Desires is ok, but I wouldn’t want to belong to any book club that chose it or wanted to waste time discussing banal questions like these!  It is a bit dispiriting to think that the country where Zola was a bestselling author is reduced to reading lack-lustre stuff like this…

Louise at A Strong Belief in Wicker reviewed it too.

Author: Grégoire Delacourt
Title: The List of My Desires
Publisher: Orion Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781780224251
Source: Kingston Library

Availability

Fishpond: The List of My Desires


Responses

  1. I read it a few months ago and it was OK, I was probably more inspired by the cover than the content. I was left feeling very unsatisfied with the book – disappointing!

    • I do wonder what makes books like this into bestsellers. Perhaps you’re right… it is an appealing cover:)

  2. Thanks for the link Lisa. I don’t really remember detail about this book, but see that I was a little more generous towards this book, although of course I still found many flaws. I am generally quite intrigued about modern French books, and keen to read books in translation, and French stories. It is disappointing when they don’t live up to expectations. I remember seeing his latest book in the shops recently, and I do believe rather incredibly for me that I left it on the shelf- normally I buy any French book in translation without thought and stick it on my overburdened French TBR shelf.


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: