The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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July 14, 2014

Paris in July: La liste de mes envies

Jocelyne is 47, overweight, married, the mother of a reckless son and a silent, thoughtful daughter (and of a baby who was stillborn), the daughter of a father who knows who she is for six minutes at a time and a beloved mother who died, suddenly, in front of her when she was a young girl,  the owner of a not-very-thriving sewing shop in a small French town, and a blogger who is surprised to learn that there is a community of women who follow her.  Her husband's name, ironically, is Jocelyn (without the 'e'); he works in a Haagen-Daz factory, dreams of owning a big-screen TV and a Porsche, and is loving and gentle again, after expressing his grief for their lost daughter by showering Jocelyne with cruelty. Her life is not all that she wanted it to be, but we are told that she is content, that she does not need or want anything to change. The shop next door to hers is owned by girlish twin sisters {the best characters in the book}, who know that they are growing older, but also that neither one will marry if it means leaving the other behind.  Years ago, the twins won enough money in the lottery to open their shop; every week, they carefully choose and play lottery numbers, and one week, they finally persuade their friend to buy a ticket herself.

You can probably guess what happens next, and you might be able (like I was) to appreciate what the author had in mind, when he has Jocelyne fold up the enormous check, tuck it into a pair of old shoes, walk into the Chanel boutique in Paris and out again, and not tell anyone - anyone at all - how much everything will inevitably change. Instead, she writes lists of what she might do with the money, an endearing combination of the day-to day (a new bath mat), the luxurious treats, the practical, the things that she believes her husband and her children would need or want.  Her husband notices, solicitously, that she is tired and losing weight, and takes her away for a long weekend by the sea. Then, the night before he leaves for a training course at company headquarters, he kisses her in a way that feels a little different, and then everything is.

A book that I saved for Paris in July, and a premise, a story, some characters, a problem to love ... and I wanted to. Oh, so ironically, the flowery author's note {this was one of those editions with book club questions at the end} begins 'Have you ever noticed that when you choose something, you often ask yourself if it would have been better to choose something else?'  Easy enough to do with a book, and harmless when it's a library book, and one that I could read astonishingly quickly and happily send back to its shelf.  What happens in the second half of the book is not any less realistic than what happens at the beginning {in both places, things could unexpectedly turn out that way}, but maybe I just want my fanciful, armchair-traveling, bus ride-enhancing, Paris-in-July, reading for pleasure to end with some hope, at least.  Maybe that will happen in the film.

{I would love to know what someone else thinks, if anyone has read this or reads it someday. It  was just published in the U.S. as My Wish List; I read the UK edition, and liked its title better.}


JoAnn said...

I definitely like the UK title better, too. Not sure this book is for me, but I'd take a chance on the film...

Bellezza said...

i haven't read this, but I have to say that the imaginative quality of it all appeals to me. It would be fun to imagine what I'd do with such a windfall; it would be fun to have things that were wrong go right. Although 'fun' is not the same as 'possible'. I detect a bit of disappointment from you in the book as it doesn't have a happy ending? That is how I would have felt too, even if happy endings are far fetched.

Vintage Reading said...

Picked this up from the tables at the front of Waterstones and then put it down again. Your review makes me think I was right!

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