Ferdinand Brun is a rather miserable old man. He’s 83; his younger wife left him for the mailman; his daughter moved to Singapore with his grandson. He lives in a Paris apartment house, monitored closely by the apartment manager and surrounded by other residents who would like nothing better than to drive him away and preferably into a retirement home where he’ll be even more miserable.
His one joy in life is his Great Dane, Daisy. That is, she’s his one joy until she’s killed, apparently by an automobile. Ferdinand decides to join her; what else does he have to live for? And so, he steps in front of a bus – and wakes up in the hospital with only minor injuries. Life is so miserable it won’t even allow Ferdinand to leave it.
He begins to plan his suicide again, when he’s interrupted by the arrival of a new family, including a baby who cries at night and a schoolgirl named Juliette who decides to take Ferdinand on as a kind of project of redemption. She’s remarkably insightful and smart, and she doesn’t put up with any of his usual guff. And one of the residents, a widow even older than Ferdinand, begins to smother him with kindness.
Very slowly, Ferdinand begins to discover that life may not be so miserable after all.
Out of Sortsis a novel by French writer Aurelie Valognes. The book was published in 2016 and helped catapult Valognes into the top ranks of French popular fiction. Her second novel, Will You Ever Change?, was published in 2017 and sold more than 600,000 copies in France.
Valognes was born and raised near Paris. She studied management and worked for a number of American companies as a brand manager. When she and her husband moved to Italy for an international assignment, she began to write fiction, and Out of Sortswas the result. She and her family live in Milan.
Translated from the French by Wendeline A. Hardenberg, Out of Sortsis funny, sad, and often moving. These characters may be French and Parisians, but it’s easy to see ourselves in their plots and prejudices. The novel is an entertaining, insightful read.
Photograph by Alessio Lin via Unsplash. Used with permission.