Given that I study French and that I will be spending the next academic year in France, I suppose it is only right that I read some french literature to review on here, plus it definitely counts as revision in the lead up to exams…doesn’t it?
It was actually a pleasant change to pick up a french book that I wouldn’t need to write an exam or essay on (oh…), and that wasn’t some sort of medieval geste or interwar political text, so I knew from the outset that I would enjoy La Liste de mes envies.
What struck me from the beginning was the simplicity of Delacourt’s writing. Not only is this incredibly useful for a reader whose second language is French, it also gives the impression that Jocelyne, the book’s protagonist is open and honest and that there will be no horrible surprises- not from her, at least! I felt for her straight away, when in the second sentence she claims she has always known that she has never been attractive, and this sense of self-deprecation continues throughout the text, but in a way that is not attention seeking or irritating.
In fact, throughout the whole book I feel for her: her ex-alcoholic husband, her estranged children, her aging father, the fact that she witnessed her mother’s death- nothing seems to be going her way. This is why, as a reader, you can’t help but feel truly happy for her when she realises her lucky lottery win. In fact, you don’t even question the secrets she begins to keep from her husband because you feel that she deserves to have such secrets.
The lists of Jocelyne’s envies, or desires, after which the book is named, that Delacourt includes throughout the book are almost humorous because he keeps them so realistic, and really displays the kindness of Jocelyne’s character through what she wishes to do with her money. The lists, of course, include bigger buys such as designer clothes and shoes, but also less extravagant things such as getting a haircut. One list reveals that she wishes to choose someone at random to give 1 million euros, but the most striking is the last wish on one of the lists: to be told that she is beautiful. It is at this point that I felt true sympathy for Jocelyne because she wanted something that, even with all of this money, she could not get.
In fact, it seems that Delacourt’s aim, throughout is to remind the reader that having money shouldn’t change you, because it is not the answer to all of life’s problems. Jocelyne manages to remain humble throughout, even in spite of her incredibly popular blog and newfound fortune.
The most heartbreaking part of the book is that the men she loves cannot or do not reciprocate. Her father, as a result of his alzheimer’s, continues to forget who she is, which results in her pretending to be the nurse because the heartbreak of reminding him that she is her daughter is too much. Her husband, just after it seems that he has started a fresh, giving up drinking and taking her out for dinner, eventually betrays her and she is left heartbroken.
La Liste de mes envies is short, which keeps it accessible and the very short chapters, or rather, narrative splits, as they aren’t actually numbered or named mean that you can really engage with each part without forgetting what happened earlier on. It is almost as if they are bursts of Jocelyne’s inner thoughts and the reader is able to share them with her.
I would recommend this book to anyone because of the sheer beauty of Delacourt’s ability to create such a wonderful character, with whom I felt I could establish a real connection. The simplicity of his writing is beautiful, and by avoiding the complexity that can often be found in French syntax, the reader is able to focus properly on what is being said and what is happening, rather than the main attention occupied by unravelling tenses. My sole criticism of the book is that it was over too quickly, I feel as though I could have continued as a part of Jocelyne’s life for much longer and I will, without a doubt, come back to this book as a result of that.
Due to the book’s great success, it has been translated and is also available in English as The List of My Desires.