Get Well Soon: Marie-Sabine Roger

“Maybe if you spend all day hanging out with crackpots you end up a little cracked yourself.”

In Get Well Soon, a novel from Marie-Sabine Roger, Jean-Pierre, a widower in his late 60s finds himself in hospital. He has no memory of what he was doing out late at night, and no memory of how he managed to land in the Seine. Luckily, Camille, a rent boy, loitering under the bridge, heard the splash as Jean-Pierre fell in, and although he couldn’t swim, he managed to hook the drowning man with a boat hook and reel him in. When Jean-Pierre wakes up in the hospital, he has a number of injuries, including a broken pelvis.

Get well soon

Forced to stay in bed, “zonked out by various drugs,” Jean-Pierre reminisces about his life, his career in the merchant navy, his marriage, his youth and friendships. There’s a lot that is pleasant to remember, and a lot he’d rather not think about. The latter includes his relationship with his wife–a woman he neglected for 31 years while he sailed the world in the merchant navy.  Now stuck in bed with nothing much to do, he decides to write his memoirs on his laptop, and the laptop acts as a beacon to a sulky teen who hangs about hoping to update her Facebook account.

I’ve always found it a strange idea, writing memoirs. There’s something pathetic about it. Like writing your own funeral eulogy, because you’re already bitching that if you want something done properly, do it yourself. Before exiting the building you polish what you can, dust off everything and sweep the cat shit under the rug. 

One of Jean-Pierre’s visitors is his brother Hervé and his sister-in-law, Claudine, a couple who:

don’t have much in common any more. Like a couple of knackered old dray horses, they’re pulling in different directions. He suffers from irritable bowel syndrome because she makes his life shit. She suffers from migraine because he does her head in. 

Another one of Jean-Pierre’s frequent visitors is policeman Maxime, who initially visits because he’s investigating how Jean-Pierre fell in the Seine, but after a while, Maxime’s visits cannot no longer be excused by policework. He visits Jean-Pierre for another, unspoken reason. The nursing aides like Maxime and his “brooding good looks,” and Jean-Pierre speculates that “when he leaves, they probably follow him down the corridor like a shoal of cod.”

Get Well Soon, a tale that argues that it’s never too late to change and learn from our mistakes is, in some ways, rather predictable, but the delightful story still manages to hold some surprises and insights. The novel works mainly because the narrator is a crusty (not idealized), intelligent widower who eschews company, and now, forced into bed rest and forced to form some relationships, he learns that life still has a lot to offer.  He mulls over his childhood and the incongruous nature of a hospital stay where staff either talk over you or address Jean-Pierre with a question such as ‘how are we today’ and whether or not he has passed wind. This short light, optimistic novel could so easily have been saccharine but it isn’t. Recommended.

Translated by Frank Wynne

Review copy

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15 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Roger Marie Sabine

15 responses to “Get Well Soon: Marie-Sabine Roger

  1. I’m glad you reviewed this as it caught my eye in a bookshop the other day. At first, I thought it might be a bit too quirky or too whimsical for my tastes – as you say, there’s always the danger that a story like this can end up going down the saccharine route. Luckily that doesn’t appear to be the case here.

    • I was concerned that it would simplistic and gooey. I hate that, but no it wasn’t like that. I included a few swear words here (there’s not a lot) to give the sense of the narrator’s voice. Everything hinges on that. I think you’d like it. It reminded me of some of the New Vessel titles I’ve read, reviewed and really liked.

  2. A short, light, optimistic novel sounds perfect – particularly given it’s not one of those schmaltzy ones. I like the idea that it’s never to late to learn or change! (Love that quote about the couple – that tells us there’s a lovely sense of humour going on here.)

  3. Sounds utterly French. I see Jean-Pierre Bacri in the role of Jean-Pierre.
    I’ll look it up in the original.

  4. I think I actually might have this one or another of her books. I’m glad you liked it.

  5. It does sound like one of those where the execution is everything. I’m another to whom it sounded potentially saccharine and clearly the possibility is there. It’s the execution that saves it.

    Will you read more by her do you think?

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