Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger

Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger
June 28, 2016
Translated from French
Genre: Fiction
Contains: strong language and sexual references
Source: eARC for Honest review

A humorous, heartwarming story follows the intellectually dim-witted 45-year-old Germain as he meets and slowly gets to know 85-year-old Margueritte, who sits in the park every day watching the pigeons and reading. She speaks to him as an equal, something his friends rarely do, and reads to him, sparking in him a previously undiscovered interest in books and reading. When she reveals to Germain that she is starting to lose her eyesight to macular degeneration, he is inspired for the first time in his life to work at reading so that he can read fluently to his new friend.

This is one of those rare times that I will say that if this were made into a movie, I would probably like the movie more than the book. The blurb about this story - a 45 year old dim-witted man becoming friends with an 85 year old woman - sounded amazing. I couldn't wait to read it. While the concept is fabulous, the execution didn't quite meet my hopes and expectations.

This story is written from Germain's POV, but this writing style is primarily internal dialogue with frequent train of thought changes. Germain best describes the story's format by way of explaining his thought process:

"I don't always explain things the right way round like educated people: first a, then b, then c" and "I always stray from the point. I start off with one thing, that leads to another and another and another, and by the time I get to the end of the sentence, I don't even remember what I was talking about. And if I get interrupted, I get even more confused and end up in a complete muddle."

This is exactly how the story progresses. Now, things start to clear up toward the end, particularly as Germain grows into himself. But if this type of writing isn't your thing, like me, it detracts from the enjoyment of the story.

I really liked the developing relationship between Germain and Margueritte. It was beautiful how they stumbled upon each other, and fate matched these two family-less strangers into an adoptive family of their own. A teacher and a student. A grandmother and a grandson. Knowing Germain's abusive upbringing and Margueritte's lonely advanced age, it was sweet and touching to see them together. I just wish more of the story was about them.

We learn a lot about Germain's life, his childhood, his horrible mother, his delayed learning, his interesting friends, his patient and gentle girlfriend. This was all important in order to see Germain's life transform, though the scenes with them were in excess of what I thought the story would be about (Germain and Margueritte). But I definitely liked seeing his growth, how he came into himself, how his life changed, and even how he affected those around him.

"And gradually, you see everything differently."

The big picture of the story was lovely. If Germain and Margueritte were the true stars of the show, I would have loved it more. The writing style, however, was less than ideal. I will say that the second half improved, and the ending was very sweet and hopeful.

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