Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Valerie Perrin - Forgotten on Sunday

Justine is 21 years old and has lived with her grandparents and cousin Jules since the death of her parents. She works as a carer at a retirement home and spends her days listening to her residents’ stories.
After bonding with Hélène, an almost 100-year-old resident, the two women slowly reveal their stories to one another. Whilst Justine helps Hélène to relive her memories of love and war, Hélène encourages Justine to confront the secrets of her own past, and the loss she has buried deep within.
One day, trouble arrives in the form of a mysterious phone call that shakes the retirement home to its core and uncovers a shocking revelation. At once humorous and melancholic, Valérie Perrin’s debut novel is a story of how the past can shape our present, and the scars of undeclared love.

Comment: I saw this book at the library and since it would fit a topic in one of the challenges I'm doing, I've decided this would do. It's the first time I try a book by this French author, but I've noticed her three books have gotten a lot of attention here.

In this story we meet Justine, a 21 year old woman who works at a retirement home. Justine knows that isn't common but she loves working there and talking to all the older people she helps taking care of, especially Helene. Her friendship with Helene makes it possible for them to exchange stories and, deep down, Justine realizes she needs to know what happened when her parents and her uncle and aunt died in a car crash when she was a child. As the revelations about her own life unravel to shocking discoveries, so the stories Helene shares become more and more dramatic. At the same time, someone is making phone calls from the retirement home telling family members someone has died, which turns out to be quite the mystery...

What caught my attention the most here was the fact Justine is willingly eager to work in a retirement home. The usual expectation is that this type of work is not always a choice and the experience I see more often near me and in relation to most places in this field, is that people only accept if they have no other options or for some other convenience reason. Meaning, this is a job most people don't see in the best light, and to have a young woman wanting to do it was different enough to make me notice the blurb.

This means Justine is a fascinating woman but I'll have to say my interest in her character stayed at her job and in regards to the impact of the mystery in her family. I think the author did a good enough job with the personality and with the construction of the character, but I can't be certain about what kind of goal her characterization had... after all, Justine personally didn't have such a big role anyway except when she was doing some investigation...

The story is told from Justine's POV and we also have the sections which she supposedly writes down, shared by Helene. I will confess I wasn't too fond of this technique, nor of the division between these two parts. I would have preferred Justine's contemporary section to have more emphasis, and perhaps Helene's past youth to be more like an afterthought, or a smaller section for comparison if necessary. The way things were done, I had to pay attention to two timelines and neither felt as strong as it could this way. In fact, I'll say that while Helene's story was heartbreaking here and there, I never established an emotional connection with it and if this had only be a much smaller part of the novel, or just referenced, I would not have minded it as much.

I was clearly a lot more invested in the contemporary setting, specially Justine's daily life, and would she change her way of thinking once she discovered her own family's past? Would this plot highlight the phone call mystery more? As a matter of fact, no, none of these things were made to be that important after all, because the big mystery, the big dramatic secret was related to Justine's parents' death, along with her uncle and aunt's. The reason wasn't that hard to guess once some hints were dropped and, of course, things end up as badly as we knew from the start, but the interest was in seeing how would Justine cope.

I think the author plotted quite the story and I did like her choices for Justine's section but since this is meant to be a more introspective novel, there are also moments I felt nothing was really going on. I wish more impact had been gained from the discoveries she makes, from the phone call mystery announcing people were dead at the retirement home, perhaps more importance to her daily routines there (we have some comments about her work but this was more a vehicle for the plot than something truly key for the story), all of which would have been more appealing to me than Helen's sections, for instance. Perhaps I could say the author used too many elements overall.

I did like the main idea behind this story, that as people get older and need help at home or in retirement homes, their families start seeing them more as a duty than a loved family member. I think the social critique here was cleverly inserted in the story and one can read between the lines. I also liked some secondary situations and I liked Justine's story and her sections, but as a whole, I also think the story could have been focused on other elements than the ones the author eventually chose to highlight.
Grade: 6/10


  1. Some times, it seems to me, authors include too many aspects in a book, so that the reader doesn't get a feeling of what the story (or the point of the story) is. I find this is not as common in genre fiction, because both editors and readers tend to ask for focus on a main plot thread or story, but literary fiction seems to play a lot looser with this.

    1. Hi!
      Yes, the idea of including as much information as one could do, so that the investigation/research/cleverness efforts can be justified.
      I've read other reviews and many readers loved this for its sentimentalism and simplicity writing.... things I kind of liked, but I wanted more out of the plot.