Saturday 23 September 2017

A tender homage to classic virtues wrapped in a EuroMillions fantasy

What would you do if you won the EuroMillions lottery? Who would you tell? What would you change about your life? We all dream of winning, but how many of us have really considered the consequences? These questions spawned the weaving of Grégoire Delacourt's The List of My Desires, a blockbusting bestseller in France.

The book is the second novel from Delacourt, a successful Parisian advertising executive. Impeccably translated from French by Anthea Bell, it's a sparkling and intriguing read. The film rights have already been sold and the book, published in France in February last year, has been in the top 10 bestseller list there since then.

Money = Happiness, or Money v Happiness – hardly new ground for any writer to broach, but Delacourt's touch is fresh and light, as he explores our personal scales of worthiness. It's not just all about the money. Or is it?

"Greed burns everything in its path," warns the EuroMillions psychologist as Jocelyne, the lottery winner, collects her cheque in Paris. Jocelyne is 47, an ordinary woman living in a small town, married with grown-up children, running her own dressmaking shop and needlecraft blog. She has no immediate intention of telling anyone about her win, least of all her family or her husband.

She is a quiet soul, broadly happy with her lot. She longs for her ordinary life, although far from perfect, to remain ordinary after her windfall, so tells nobody about her "good" fortune. She opts instead to wait, as she writes lists of what she needs versus what she wants.

What will really make her happy? She looks at her life and its small pleasures – her friendships, her weekends away, her sewing – she realises that maybe ordinary isn't so bad.

But then the decision is taken out of her hands altogether when she discovers that her cheque is missing. And so is her husband, whose name happens to be Jocelyn.

Written in the first person, Jocelyne introduces us to her family and friends with slicing, ironic observation. So it's a shock to discover that her own naivete plays its part in her unravelling. Perhaps the author is simply reminding us that we have all been there – not winning the lottery, but certainly miscalculating in our trust.

This is a very elegant novel. Its restraint is wonderful, with not a superfluous word. Grégoire Delacourt's keen eye pans deftly across the inner landscape of desire and longing, presenting a tender homage to almost unfashionable virtues – loyalty, duty, patience – without ever taking the high moral ground.

These days, it is regarded as clichéd and hyperbolic to describe a novel as a tour de force. But I can't think of a more appropriate description for this book.

Ann Cunningham

Irish Independent

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