Thursday, 6 November 2014

The list of my desires

I really love the cover of 'The list of my Desires' by Grégoire Delacourt adorned with multicoloured buttons, a nod to the occupation of our heroine Jo who runs a haberdashery shop. Jo is a woman who's life has not turned out as she had imagined, and suddenly she is given the chance to remake it when she wins a large jackpot on the lottery. 
It is a quaint little story that is really about what is valuable in life and whether money really can buy you happiness. So instead of jumping up and down and rushing out to buy stuff she hides the cheque from her husband and carries on with life, waiting for the right moment to break the news. She contemplates the advice of the lottery psychologist who warns her how everyone will want something from her and it may destroy every relationship she has. The book is punctuated with lists that she writes of things that she wants; starting with a simple catalogue of items to make life more comfortable, and ending with things in her life that need fixing. 
So we watch as Jo examines her relationship with her husband, and wonders if she wants to change it. We watch as her business grows and her crafty blog gets a loyal following, and she builds a life where she feels valuable. But the money manages to destroy things even without her using it, and it is only after everything has fallen apart that she can recognise the value of the money.

I thought it was interesting that in the discussion questions for book groups at the back of the book the first question asks, What would you have done in Jocelyne's shoes? If you had cashed the cheque what would you have spent the money on? This is exactly how the lottery works. It sucks you in by suggesting you to spend time thinking about what you might spend the money on if you won. Mostly people like to think that they would be more thoughtful and not allow newfound wealth to 'spoil' their life, but Jo recognises that such a huge amount of money will inevitably take over no matter how you might think you can control the situation. The book wants you to spend time thinking what impact it might have on your life. 

But the one quote that I wrote down was this, and it struck me as a stunning indictment of the consumer society. Jo's reflection is that her lottery winnings takes this sense of meaning from life because she can buy all her wants at once, with no need to wait or wish for them:

"It's the need for a non-slip bath mat that keeps us going. Or for a couscous steamer. A potato peeler. So we stagger our purchases. We programme the places we'll go for them. Sometimes we draw comparisons. A Calor iron versus a Rowenta iron. We fill our cupboards slowly, our drawers one by one. You can spend your life filling a house, and when it's full you break things so that you have to replace them and have something to do the next day. You can even go so far as to break up a relationship in order to project yourself into another story, another future, another house.
Another life to fill." (p.133)

So, not a very profound book and a little predictable in places but an interesting take on a 'what if...' situation that we all occasionally muse about. 

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