26 August 2013:
I really have not had a whole lot of good things to say lately, about modern literature. But this time I really do. This book was recommended some months ago in my book club magazine (the one I never shop out of since their prices keep on staying way above all shops). I cut out the picture and pasted it in my to-read-note-book. And forgot about it, till I returned some books to the library and saw it standing there, on new literature. So I grabbed it, even though I am currently reading about crime during WWII.
Saturday, when the others went swimming in the afternoon, I remembered the book I had borrowed that week, and started reading it, and couldn’t stop until I had finished it. It had everything: romance, tragedy, sorrow and lots of humour. Nathalie is the woman that everyone find beautiful beyond words, especially since she lives a little bit like in a dream world. One day, Francois, walks up to her on the street and asks her out. When she orders apricot juice, he decides that she is the perfect woman and they soon are living together. Two years later they get married and at the same time, she graduates and has to find a job. She applies for a job in a Swedish firm, with an office in Paris, and gets to be interviewed by the boss himself, since he has fallen in love with her photo on the cv. Of course she gets the job. And her boss constantly try to have an affair with her. But she has the perfect marriage for five years. Then one day, her husband goes out running and never returns. He dies from the injuries he receives when he is hit by a car, and Nathalie is shattered. For months she stays at home and when she finally goes back to work, her boss is more adamant than ever in his attempts to get her to go to bed with him. His marriage has fallen apart since he is so infatuated with Nathalie. But Nathalie is like a zombie. She works harder than ever, but she really doesn’t have a life.
When she finally understands what Charles, her boss has in mind, she tells him that she wouldn’t have him if he was the last man on earth and he finally gets the hint. He sees to that she gets promoted so that they no longer work on the same floor. She is now the boss over six people, one of them being the busybody Chloé. Chloé fancies herself Nathalie’s best friend off work, but it’s more of a one-sided worship. When she tries to get Nathalie to flirt with a man in a bar, she doesn’t succeed, but Nathalie starts thinking about her situation and how others perceive her. She is sick and tired of the pitying. One day, one of her co-workers, an ugly Swede who dress poorly, is very reserved and a nerd, walks in to her office to discuss some work and she just kisses him out of the blue. Not because she likes him or for any other reason, but he goes home that day, wondering why she did it. He has grown up being bullied in school, being unwanted by girls, having had his heart broken by one girl, but now his hopes are lit. But Nathalie ignores him the next day. Till he finally gets angry and decides to kiss her. They decide to go out on a date, but in the middle of the date, Marcus, gets severely depressed. His old experiences surface and he realizes that he doesn’t want his heart to get broken by this incredibly beautiful woman. So he just walks out on her. And this makes him suddenly very interesting to Nathalie.
One can’t really say that a relationship ensues, but Nathalie does everything she can to try to get to know Marcus. She realises that this Swede is very Swedish and that she has to be the one that takes all initiative. But before anything really happens between them, the rumours start. Chloé manages to find out some details and she is disgusted over how her beautiful “friend” can even look at Marcus who is so terrible ugly, so very below her. Nathalie dislikes Chloé’s comments and interference, and she starts really getting angry with her co-workers for not minding their business either. When Marcus is invited to have dinner with their boss, she starts getting suspicious. Marcus realizes that the boss is infatuated with Nathalie and like a true Swede is dead honest and tells him that nothing has happened between them. But the boss, who can not accept that Nathalie might want Marcus and not him, is not taking any chances. He decides to have Marcus moved back to Sweden. Marcus and Nathalie suddenly have to make very serious, important decisions about their lives and careers.
I loved this book! When Nathalie’s husband dies, you feel her pain ooze off the pages. And the author hits the nail on its head when he describes what happens when you have lost someone. He says that no-one listens to the one that is crying. You are no longer allowed to do what you think is best for you. Which is so very true. And then he says that the desire to be alone with one’s grief is considered to be unsound. And believe me, I can relate here and testify that it is true. And when people show up, you have to put a brave face on and pretend that all is well.
Having grown up in Sweden myself, I also know how well the author portrays the typical Swedish nerd. My country is full of them. And I know how Marcus felt having been bullied myself. Marcus is a very interesting character especially since the author is a man. Marcus knows that he is no great catch, that he is not handsome, that he doesn’t dress well, but like all men, he feels that why not, why shouldn’t he have a gorgeous girlfriend, after all he has been told that women don’t care about what a man looks like. Well, that is only partly true. There is a limit to what we will tolerate! And if I am going to be honest, Nathalie will never feel for Marcus, what she felt for Francois. Marcus is something totally different and she will have a safe relationship with him, not a passionate one like with Francois, but at the end of the book, she accepts that. She can’t have what she has lost, again, but something different. And life with Marcus doesn’t have to mean utter boredom. He does have humour and he is a challenge since he has such a troubled past. When Nathalie met Francois, he was much older than her, and she was the little girl. Now she is older and wiser, and ready for a more mature relationship as an equal and might actually end up having children, which she and Francois were too selfish for.