His mother called him a worthless halfwit while his fellow drunks at the local bar ensure he’s the butt of all their jokes. He spends his days whittling wood, counting pigeons and adding his own name to the bottom of the list on the town war memorial. So how could Germain possibly understand what a casual encounter on a park bench with eighty-five year old Margueritte could mean? In this touchingly comic tale of an unusual friendship, that first conversation opens a door into a world Germain could never have imagined-the world of books and ideas-and gives both him and Margueritte a chance at a happiness they thought had passed them by.
Despite his age, in some ways this is Germain’s coming of age story. Not until he meets Margueritte who doesn’t judge him, but encourages him, does he start to develop in ways he’d never believed he was capable of. All his life he has been told he was stupid, by his mother, his teachers and the army, who classified him as suffering from “mental retardation”. Bullied at school and with few friends, he knows he’s not clever and accepts this. He goes down to the bar where the locals accept him with varying degrees of patronising sneering and protective caring. He is a child in a man’s body, a body that Annette in particular, despite their 16 year age difference is very fond of. Childlike he may be, but he knows what to do when the occassion demands.
All this starts to change on meeting Margueritte, she too likes to count the pigeons, but she also likes to read and think about things. Activities that until now, Germain had not participated in. But when Margueritte starts to share her reading with him, it awakens, thoughts and feelings he’d never encountered before. Far from being stupid, he is really just the product of his upbringing and the fact he was written off from an early age which set the course of his life. As Germain begins to understand,
“just because you’re uncultivated doesn’t mean you’re not cultivable. You just need to stumble on the right gardener”.
The book is narrated by Germain, and it did take a while to get used to his thoughts. Not quite stream of consciousness, but he does flit and fly about as memories and thoughts come to him. Seeing the world through his eyes, isn’t always a nice place. Imagining his life growing up, with an uncaring single mother and bullying teacher and school mates, does not bode well for his adult life. However it’s Germain’s acceptance of the way he is and his unquestioning nature that helps him survive and it’s impossible not to warm to him and want the best.
I enjoyed this book, it really makes you think about what is important in life and what really makes a person. It’s about looking beneath the surface and accepting the gifts we all have. It was interesting following Germain on his journey as he starts to learn things about himself and becomes more of a man and starts to unleash his potential. It was a journey that also helped to change the lives of Margueritte and Annette, in ways that they couldn’t have forseen either.
It’s a fairly short read, but packs quite a lot into it’s pages and it made a welcome change from my usual crime/thriller and chick lit reads. Every once in a while, it does you good to read something that makes you think and question perceptions, and this does so in an entertaining and ultimately heartwarming way.
I received a free ecopy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.