What's wrong with a mediocre existence

Luck in mediocrity

Grégoire Delacourt: "All my wishes", Verlag Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 2012, 127 pages

The heroine is happy with her mediocre life. (AP)

A bestseller from France that is a clever and amusing twist on the old saying about money that doesn't make you happy.

The heroine is mediocre all round. She is neither beautiful nor charming. An overweight middle-aged woman who runs a haberdashery store, has two grown children, and a husband of many years who, even at the beginning of their love affair, had no particular passion. He was never the long-awaited Prince Charming, and no one will come by on the white horse to get her out of her petty-bourgeois environment. The woman knows that, after all, she is a knowledgeable novel reader.

That could be a sad story, but the accomplished Parisian author doesn’t let his heroine - who is calmly considering her situation - hope for another existence at all. The 47-year-old is happy with her mediocrity, satisfied with her husband, who dreams of a flat screen TV and an expensive car, with her vacations that always take place in the same place with the same friends - and with her two business neighbors. They are twins, have long legs and are in good shape. You run a barber shop and still dream of great happiness. That's why they play the lottery every week and imagine what they would do if they got the big win. And then they persuade the friend to play once too.

The story seems foreseeable that the improbable will happen: the heroine wins the incredible sum of 18 million. At this point the novel could take a maudlin or sarcastic turn. It is well known that money does not make you happy. The lottery company's psychologist paints the woman with everything that happens to her, who is cheating on her, who is going to beg her, whom she cannot trust. But the first-person narrator is not only mediocre, she is also smart. She makes lists of her wishes. She doesn't really need a lot of money for anyone. That's why she hides the check and continues to live as before.

The author knows that this is not really possible with an 18 million profit in the shoe cupboard and is therefore making an unbelievable volte. Fraud and betrayal are now the focus and everything the bitchy psychologist predicted seems to be coming true. Because this cheerful novel is not about great dramatic literature, but rather a small, fine story about luck, money and compensatory justice, everything has to turn out well in the end.

The traitor is punished, the betrayed rewarded. A new man appears, and the heroine becomes slim too. This may not happen often in life, but in an entertaining, well-told novel like this one, such an ending is permissible and quite comforting.
Discussed by Manuela Reichart

Grégoire Delacourt: All my wishes
from the French by Claudia Steinitz
Verlag Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 2012
127 pages. 15.99 euros