Review: Les Oubliés du dimanche, by Valérie Perrin
Alert, alert - we have the first potential entry into the 'best of 2022' list already read and filed away in the bookcase! (Sorry, everyone, this book doesn't exist in an English translation yet).
This is the story of Justine Neige, a nurse in a retirement home, who collects the stories of her patients and eventually turns the story of one of them, Hélène, into a novel - because Hélène's life really is wild (I realise this is a novel and Valérie Perrin can do whatever she wants, but honestly, this book was so gripping and wonderful and good I forgot I was reading a novel and thought I was a part of someone's world. If that's not the highest compliment I can give a book I don't know what the fuck is).
This book had absolutely everything I love in a novel - multiple timelines and perspectives, quirky characters, reasonable and realistic dialogue, a family mystery, a complicated love story, and, most importantly, an ambiguous ending that still pulls together all the threads of the novel. It was all rendered in the same kind of simple, clear, yet very narratively evocative prose that Valérie Perrin used so well in Changer l'eau des fleurs - and characters that feel exquisitely, magnificently real even as they're a bit magical-realism with their odd characteristics and personality traits.
And, as I mentioned briefly above, I couldn't put this book down. I'm not kidding - I sat down in my grandma's comfy reading chair and next thing I knew it was four hours later and I had finished the book in one sitting. It's gripping and compelling and nuanced and I wanted so badly to know how Justine's parents had died, who was making the anonymous phone calls, if she was going to end up with That Guy or The Other Guy (those are actually their names in the book, I promise), if she was going to finish Hélène's life story before Hélène died - and even the story-within-a-story, the novel of Hélène's life, was so beautiful and moving and wonderful that I just had to know how that ended too.
Perrin's sense of pacing and narrative drive is absolutely pitch-perfect, so pitch-perfect that I forgive her the slight repetitiveness of her themes between this book and Changer l'eau des fleurs. And, like in that one, the stories and the themes here had me bawling my eyes out because of how raw and emotionally complex and layered they were.
I am, in fact, so in awe of her pacing and her storytelling that I have already purchased her third book despite my promise to myself to wait and buy all my French books in pocket paperback because of money.
Keep an eye out for all the English translations of her novels - they're so unbelievably beautiful and good while remaining accessible and easy to read. She's a new auto-buy author for me for sure.