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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The List of My Desires
(My Wish List)

Grégoire Delacourt

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To purchase My Wish List

Title: The List of My Desires
Author: Grégoire Delacourt
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: French
Availability: My Wish List - US
The List of My Desires - UK
My Wish List - Canada
La liste de mes envies - Canada
My Wish List - India
La liste de mes envies - France
Alle meine Wünsche - Deutschland
Le cose che non ho - Italia
La lista de mis deseos - España
  • French title: La liste de mes envies
  • UK title: The List of My Desires
  • US title: My Wish List
  • Translated by Anthea Bell

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Our Assessment:

B- : odd, uneven take on winning-the-lottery story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 1/3/2012 Baptiste Liger
Publishers Weekly . 27/1/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "La Liste de mes envies possède un charme naturel et une évidente efficacité." - Baptiste Liger, L'Express

  • "This dark fable about how money changes everything, and nothing, was a bestseller in France, and the aching need for comfort, safety and love that it describes is universal, even if Jocelyne’s ambivalence toward big money may puzzle American readers." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The List of My Desires (now also published in the US, as My Wish List) is largely narrated by Jocelyne Guerbette, a forty-seven year old "Arras fabric peddler", as she calls herself, when the story begins, with a husband with a factory job and two grown children who have flown the coop. If Jocelyne isn't exactly having a mid-life crisis, she certainly is feeling a bit melancholy about the way she and her life have turned out. She's not entirely happy in her skin -- the increasing flabbiness not helping -- and while she enjoys her little shop, Jo's Fabrics (and her knitting-blog, tengoldfingers (which apparently already gets twelve-hundred hits a day ...)), there's clearly a sense of time and possibilities having passed her by. Jocelyne married young, the first man to sweep her off her feet knocking her up, so that was that; the fact that his name is Jocelyn makes for a fun anecdote and they manage to get along well enough nowadays, but it's not exactly like she feels he's her soulmate.
       They have a daughter who was always one of few words -- and is now intent on making films -- and a son who still seems to be trying to find his way (soon abandoning his studies), and they aren't really that close, geographically or otherwise. There was a third child, but she was stillborn -- a family trauma that caused Jocelyn to show his ugly side and seems to have marked family relations ever since.
       Jocelyne does have some friends, including the pretty twins Danièle and Françoise, who run a local salon and like to gossip. The twins like to play the lottery, and one day Jocelyne lets herself be talked into buying a ticket; naturally, it turns out to be the winning one -- a jackpot of €18,547,301.28. Suddenly, Jocelyne could buy more or less anything she wanted, including the Porsche Jocelyn dreams of -- but she asks herself whether she really wants to change her life.
       Jocelyn isn't a great husband, but he's fairly thoughtful, and though their life together is hardly idyllic it has the comforts of domesticity she enjoys. She reaches a larger community through her weblog, and touches many others through that. She has fun with the twins. And while she'd like to help her kids, they're pretty much out of her reach -- like anyone, they could probably use the money, but it seems unlikely to bring them any closer to Jocelyne. And then there's her father, brain-damaged for years now so that he has no short or medium-term memory, capable only of following anything for six minutes before it's drained from his mind forever: Jocelyne has to remind him every time she comes, and repeatedly during the visits themselves, who she is. Now Jocelyne could afford better care for her father, but still couldn't change the fundamental situation -- that he's lost to her, beyond any six-minute stories she can tell him, forever.
       Jocelyne mulls things over. She doesn't immediately cash in the ticket, and when she travels to Paris to do so she gets a check rather than getting the money transferred into her account -- another way of putting off actually having the money usably in hand. The lottery officials in Paris also warn her about how the money can change things, even with friends and family (not to mention all the strangers who will come with their appeals for help). Jocelyne is receptive to the message, treading carefully, suddenly suspicious of all -- even her husband.
       The way Jocelyne sees the men in her life suggests a disconnect from reality: she compares her husband's looks to those of the actor Venantino Venantini; another man that figures in her life is presented only as: "my Vittorio Gassman". Down-to-earth reality doesn't necessarily disappoint -- she has good times with both -- but clearly she looks a bit too much to fantasy-(film-)ideals. She also doesn't tell Jocelyn about winning the lottery: not when she realizes it, not when she goes to cash in the ticket, not when she has the check in hand. Clearly, she doesn't trust him; clearly, whatever they share, they don't share enough so that Jocelyne would be comfortable telling him about the windfall and trust him to act responsibly and together with her in determining where to go from there.
       Arguably, then, as things turn out, her mistrust is entirely justified -- but arguably, too, it's her mistrust that leads to the actions that prove her right. Surely her failure to share with her husband of over twenty years something so significant is an enormous betrayal, a clear sign to him that even after all these years she doesn't believe in them, that's she's still looking out for her own interests, rather than their shared ones.
       Delacourt falls a bit short in exploring all the dynamics at work here; worse, he falters and shifts from the first-person narrative of Jocelyne telling her story to an omniscient narrator, offering a glimpse of a different perspective. You can see why he feels the need to do it, but he doesn't really offer a fair shake (and he doesn't follow through, either -- soon enough we're back to only Jocelyne recounting what's happening).
       It makes for a story that's oddly melancholy and a bit bitter. It also sends some rather mixed messages. Jocelyne more or less gets to have her cake and eat it, too -- a local newspaper story about her shop and weblog lead to an explosion of interest (eleven thousand hits a day on the blog), for example -- and while things seem to go awry for a while everything falls rather effortlessly back into place eventually. They say money can't buy everything and while the foundations of Jocelyne's ultimate happiness arguably may be found elsewhere, money certainly nicely smoothes the edges and by the end it very much looks like money (and the events set into motion by her picking the winning (lottery ticket) numbers) have been Jocelyne's winning ticket. (The money-doesn't-buy-everything loser of the story, on the other hand, is unceremoniously allowed to drift into distant oblivion.)
       Around the time she won the lottery, Jocelyne seemed to be unsure of just how dissatisfied she was with her life; "My own dreams have fled", she moans, but there's also some satisfaction in the smaller, quotidian around her. There had been good times and bad times, and even if Jocelyn perhaps wasn't an ideal husband, the unforgivable past was past and the present was okay. The lottery ticket, however, allowed her to put things to the test -- or to force the issue. It revealed true colors -- and yet the way that unfolds suggests Jocelyne forcing the outcome as much as the issue, her own doubts creating a situation that can only prove those doubts true. If she had been certain about her situation, things would have turned out differently -- and possibly no better or worse.
       The moral ambiguities here give an odd feel to the book, but at least Delacourt doesn't make it too easy for his characters (at least in that respect -- much of Jocelyne's drop-in-her-lap success, with her shop and with men (not to mention the lottery-win) seems a bit much). He lays it on a bit thick -- so also with forgetful dad and the way Jocelyne can make him happy which seems rather designed just to force us to see her yet more sympathetically (when, in fact, she possibly doesn't deserve it). Yet that also fits exactly with the moral message here: happiness is faked, a construct (and fleeting, reinvention needed every six minutes) -- which money can help with but doesn't determine.
       Odd stuff, in any case, and a bit awkwardly presented in a patchwork of decent scenes but with too much left unsaid and unexplored.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 May 2014

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The List of My Desires: Reviews: Grégoire Delacourt: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Grégoire Delacourt was born in 1960.

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