A few years ago I read a little novel called “Soft in the head“. It left such a positive impression that I just HAD to read another work by this talented author. Once again, she has left me wanting more. She has created another character that is memorable and a story that will be appreciated by many. In particular, I think anyone who likes books like “The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen” or “A man called Ove” will love this one.
At five o’clock in the morning, a sixty-seven year old man is fished out of the Seine. Propelled over the bridge by an automobile, he is in critical condition. He awakes in hospital from a coma. He has a broken pelvis, many, many broken bones, and some internal injuries. He cannot remember why he was on the bridge at that hour…
Jean-Pierre Fabre is a childless widower and a self-confessed hoodlum. He always fancied himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’, but nothing could be further from the truth. Other than very sporadic visits by his younger and only brother, he has few visitors.
“Then the day begins, with ten times as many hours as a day spent on the outside”.
He is in pain, he has had to give up all semblance of privacy and personal modesty. Flat on his back, connected to a myriad of wires, he reflects back on his life. His reflections are interrupted by a policeman who questions him about the event that led him to this condition. When no clarity is found, the policeman Maxime continues to visit him and they become unlikely friends over time.
“Sometimes, I shed a little tear. It’s memory-related incontinence, a sort of emotional bed-wetting.”
Another visitor is Camille, a young ‘rent boy‘ who saved his life by fishing him out of the river and calling police.
“I don’t know the first thing about kids – given my history – but I’m guessing it’s much the same as kittens and puppies: if you’re dumb enough to scratch their heads it won’t be long before they start pissing on the table legs and hogging the sofa. I’ll have none of that here, I need my peace and quiet.”
As his condition begins to improve, he tries to fill his time with writing his memoirs. Then, he is also visited by a plump, gum-chewing, fourteen year old girl named Maëva who begs to use his laptop so that she can go on Facebook. (I imagined Gemma from Coronation Street)
Written with equal parts pathos and humour, this book was a little gem. It is a treatise on growing older, relationships, loneliness, and even hope. In short, I loved it.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Pushkin Press via Edelweiss.
A few of my favourite quotes from the novel:
“There are some people with whom silence becomes as itchy as eczema.”
“It is not belief that bothers me, it is what believers do with it.”
“Being alone means not having to worry about anyone.”
“Health is something we think about only if we’ve never had it, or if it’s failing. Life is something we cling to only if it’s threatened.”
Published for the first time in 1989 in children’s literature, Marie-Sabine Roger has not stopped writing since, in very different registers, albums and novels youth novels for older adolescents and adults, and new novels for adults, and more recently, collaborating on screenplays with Jean Becker. In recent years, it is aimed primarily at adult readers, while continuing to write books for very young readers.