Gratitude by Delphine de Vigan (France) tr. George Miller

les gratitudes French literature AgeismI’ve read one other novel by Delphine de Vigan, which was auto-fiction and delved into lives affected by a bi-polar parent. A later novel also sat on the edge of fiction and real life, a novel of suspense where a friendship becomes obsessive and perhaps dangerous.

Gratitude feels like a departure from that style of writing, there’s nothing haunting or tense here, no tactics to turn the page faster.

More reflective, it considers the dilemma of ageing on three people: childless, unmarried Michka who was orphaned at the age of seven, near the end of her life; Marie, a young woman who lived upstairs, who has become like family to her; and Jérôme, the resident speech therapist who visits and is touched by Michka’s way of being, as he attempts to retrain her mind to find the lost words.

It’s a relatively simple tale told from the perspective of two people, one whose connections go back many years, the other who meets her for the first time in the care home. Both are equally important, reminding me of the beginning of that saying…

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you will know exactly what to do.

How To Express Gratitude

It is Marie who in the opening pages questions what it means to have gratitude and how to show it to someone who has been important in one’s life. She reflects on Michka’s life and their final interactions, in search of evidence of her  gratitude. Jérôme wishes there was a forewarning system, to let us know when someone’s time is imminent, even though he works with the elderly, he suffers from the shock of their departure.

The narrative switches between the two as first Marie recalls the day everything changed, when Michka lost her independence and then moments are shared while she is in care, Michka’s conversation affected by her aphasia, the impairment of her use of language, other words jump ahead pushing out the one she wishes to say.

The admission interview for the nursing home demonstrates the terror and horror of entry, as if going for a job interview for a job you never wanted in the first place, made to feel like you might be rejected. The director reminds her that it’s the same with everything in life – whatever you do, there are tests, interviews, competitions, exams, assessments, evaluations, grading. It is necessary to show your dedication, commitment, motivation and determination.

In the second half as more and more words disappear or malfunction, a sense of urgency arises.

Attaining Completion, Resolution

It is a slice of life and a look into that part of it that is imperfect, that part when some have to be at the mercy of others, in a facility that diminishes the end, possibly brings it on more quickly.

Michka has an unresolved matter to deal with and in her sessions with Jérome, which she often sabotages to question him about his father, she tells him of her regret, the thing she is unable to do for herself. Time is running out.

Gratitude is a life-affirming read, even if there are sad undertones, showing there exist all manner of souls around, those that want to hurry us along, and those that without expectation of reward, are willing to go out of their way to help another. And the importance of fulfilling those wishes for another.

My Review Of:

Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan

gratitude Maya Angelou Delphine de Vigan

N.B. This book was an ARC ( Advance Reader Copy) with thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing provided via Netgalley.

 

14 thoughts on “Gratitude by Delphine de Vigan (France) tr. George Miller

  1. I like the fact that you’ve described this book as a life-affirming read in spite of the melancholy tone – especially right now when the collective mood is so fragile given the impact of the pandemic. She’s a writer I’d like to read more of, for sure. That sense of reflection in her work really appeals…

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    • I didn’t find it melancholy at all, it made me think about the value and role of people in one’s life who aren’t family, who aren’t there out of obligation. And even then, it can be a relationship of short duration or new. I think of them as the earth(ly) angels that come into our lives, just by being themselves can bring such important gifts. It is the anti-thesis to the ‘be wary of strangers’, the opportunity to make a difference or receive the gift of it.

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    • It’s a thought provoking short novel and an interesting choice for the writer to have gone in this direction. Because she is known for her work in auto-fiction, it makes me wonder if she’d had recent first hand experience, observing parts of what occurs in the novel.

      That line crossed when independence is being lost is excruciating to witness, what great good fortune those who never have to cross it have.

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  2. The tone of the book is palpable from your review, Claire. Thank you for sharing. While reading this review, it occurred to me that I find myself drifting toward books which are melancholic, and very rarely toward books which are now catalogued as ‘uplit’. I am in love with the cover art. It says so much about the book.

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  3. Beautiful review, Claire! I saw a few Delphine de Vigan books at the bookshop recently. They were all slim and I was so tempted to get them, but I didn’t. Now I feel I should have. For some reason, I thought she wrote crime novels. From your review, she looks a very different writer. This book looks very beautiful. I want to read it. Will add it to my list. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Vishy for your kind words. I’ve only read one other, but read a lot of reviews of her work, people often ask whether her work is nonfiction or auto-fiction, more autobiographical with a bit of licence to go beyond the truth. I think she is a bit of an enigma, which makes her work interesting and thought provoking. I hope you try one of her books.

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      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Delphine de Vigan, Claire. She looks like a fascinating writer. Will try to read one of her books soon. Thanks for inspiring me 😊

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