My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt is a short novel about a middle-aged woman who wins the lottery.
10 out of 10 stars. This is a small novel, an easy two-hour read, that tells the story of Jocelyne Guerbette who wins the lottery in a small town in France named Arris. Her life changes, but not for the better, and it all hinges on the fact that her name, Jocelyne, and her husband’s name, Jocelyn, have one one letter difference. With a lottery ticket, that’s certain to spell disaster.
Jocelyne Guerbette lives a very simple life. She owns a fabric shop where she works. She’s married to Jocelyn, a stocky man who works at the Haagen Daas factory. She has two children, a son and a daughter. Her son has become like her husband, dull and lifeless, but her daughter Nadine has become a filmmaker, shaped by watching her mother suffer abuse at the hands of her father for so many years.
Jocelyne runs a blog called tengoldfingers where she writes about running the fabric shop and her love of knitting. Inside, Jocelyne is sad and she chalks this up to the third child she gave birth to, a little girl who was still born. After their child died, Jo (the husband) got drunk every night and screamed at Jocelyne, telling her how fat and ugly she was, telling her that it was her fat and slovenliness that killed their baby. This cruelty was endured for months before finally Jocelyne’s doctor sends her to a convent hospital to be nursed back to health by the nuns. While there, she spends days at the beach and meets a man who is kind to her. Although the allure of entering into a sexual and emotional relationship with him is tempting, she returns to her husband ever the faithful wife. Eventually, Jo’s hatred for her subsides and is replaced by apathy. He views women in absolutes and thinks women should be thin, beautiful, silent, and do anything sexually their partner requests of them: Michele Henrion…,she’s older than us, still an old maid. Jo claims it’s because she sucks on prune pits when she should be sucking pricks.
When Jocelyne’s blog gets 1,200 hits a day, a female reporter comes to interview her and tells her all about her mother who used to sit at home and do nothing all day until she found Jocelyne’s blog. Now she’s knitting and sewing and meeting with friends and has a life. At about the same time, news has spread to Jocelyne’s two friends, twins named Daniele and Francois, that someone in Arras has purchased the winning lottery ticket. Without even looking at it, Jocelyne knows the winning ticket is hers. Before long her blog is getting 5,000 hits a day.
With only three days left to claim the lottery prize, Jocelyne quietly goes into the lottery office and claims her prize, a check for 18,547,301.28 euros. She takes it home and puts it under the insole of one of her shoes. Meanwhile her blog is getting 8,000 hits a day. One of her blog readers, Mado, comes to visit her. Her adult daughter has caught the same flu that Jo had and is in the hospital. She cries in Jocelyne’s arms and asks her what to say to her daughter to make her hold on. Jocelyne goes to the hospital with her, but Mado’s daughter dies. Jocelyne hires her to work in her fabric shop. This is when she begins her wish list and it is modest: A lamp for the hall table. A coat and hat stand. A board to hold keys and the post. The mundane everyday needs of a family. But over time, her list changes.
Being rich means seeing all that’s ugly and having the arrogance to think you can change things. All you have to do is pay for it.
So Jocelyne keeps her check hidden in her shoes and uncashed. Slowly she begins adding new things to her list, extravagant things for her and Jo, like a vacation. But always she is brought back to the fear that if she tells Jo about the check, he’ll buy an expensive car, drive away and never come back. She’s terrified he’ll leave her. And remembering back to the hateful way he treated her, it’s a reasonable fear.
There was nothing at the bottom of those bottles, or himself, except sheer nastiness. The hateful things he said: it was your big body that suffocated Nadege. Every time you sat down you were strangling her. My baby’s dead because you didn’t take care of yourself. Poor Jo, your body is a garbage can, and a great fat disgusting garbage can. You’re a sow. A slag and a sow.
Jocelyne took all of this in and it’s still there inside of her, hurting her every day, although she refuses to admit it. The very few kind words Jo has for her, she lingers on, not the hurtful ones that ruined her. Then the article is published and her blog is suddenly getting 11,000 hits a day. Jo leaves on a company training seminar and something tells Jocelyne he isn’t coming back. She goes into her closet and finds the check gone. Jo has taken it and run off to Belgium.
When he left me, Jo took away my laughter, my joy, my love of life.
He tore up the list of my needs, my desires, the list of my crazy ideas.
He’d deprived me of the little things that keep us going. The potato peeler you plan to buy at Lidl tomorrow. The expensive iron you’re going to buy at Auchan the week after that. A little rug for Nadine’s room in a month’s time, when the paycheck comes in.
He’d taken away my desire to be beautiful, sexy, a good lover.
He had crossed out my memories of us, canceled them. He’d done irreparable damage to the simple poetry of our life.
So Jo does the only thing she can when grief makes her lose weight dramatically, she goes back to the hospital run by the Dominican nuns and grieves. There she meets again the same man who brought her solace seven years ago when her baby died.
For the next 18 months, Jo goes to Belgium, spends about three million euros on a fancy car, a huge house, and lots of prostitutes. He gets fatter and uglier and even the call girls can’t stand him. Eventually he can’t even get an erection because he hates himself so much. He calls Nadine and she agrees to meet with him. He flies to London to see her and she is aloof and distant. He’s always been a cruel father and she only meets with him out of politeness because he is her father. He wants to talk to Jocelyne and Nadine says no. Nadine leaves and he returns to his shell of a life. He writes Jocelyne a letter and posts it in the mail, then he sits on his sofa waiting for the reply that never comes, until eventually he stops eating and dies.
Meanwhile, Jo recovers at the hospital but something within her dies. In those few weeks I had killed something in me. A terrible thing called kindness. She receives Jo’s letter and inside the envelope is a check for what’s left of the lottery winnings, 15,186,004.72 euros. She takes that money and buys a villa where she brings her father and a nurse to care for him. She keeps her lover and continues to lose weight. Men stare at her as she walks past. She starts a savings account for her son and gives money to Nadine for her next film. As the novel ends, she says simply describing her life: I am loved, but I no longer love.
10 out of 10 stars. Beautifully written with an economy of words.
My favorite passage:
I know now that love can stand up to death better than betrayal.
Reviewed by Jill.