This book review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, by French author Raphaelle Giordano (I seem to have had a bit of a focus on French authors recently!) is an interesting mix between novel and self-help book.
According to the book description, it reached best-seller status in France, stayed in the top ten books there for more than a year and has now been published in thirty-six countries.
The story follows thirty-eight-year-old Camille, a Parisian who seemingly has everything to make her happy: a steady job, Sebastien, a loving husband, Adrien, their nine-year-old son. So why is she dissatisfied with her life?
One Friday evening, after a frustrating day chasing jobs in ‘an uncharted wilderness’ – which she suspects is her boss’s punishment for agreeing to a four-day work week – her car tyre bursts as she’s driving back into central Paris during ‘an almost biblical storm’.
Out of mobile range, she abandons her car to seek help in what appears to be an empty woodland area, and comes upon a mansion set behind iron gates. The man who opens the door to her resembles a ‘Gallic Sean Connery’. Ooh-la-la! Introducing himself as Claude Dupontel, he welcomes her in.
Despite what you may be thinking right now, the story isn’t about a torrid love affair between them! Claude is happily married, an empathetic man who shows her kindness.
All of Camille’s pent-up frustrations are released when he shows concern, and she breaks down in front of him. Claude looks her ‘straight in the eye’, not judgementally, but in a way that is ‘like a benevolent pair of open arms’. Instinctively, she knows she can trust him and feels a surprising bond with this man she has only just met. She admits her dissatisfaction with her life and is taken aback when he tells her she is suffering from ‘acute routinitis’, a ‘sickness of the soul’ that affects many ‘happiness illiterates’, especially in the West. Claude tells her he is a ‘routinologist’ and that he can help her.
He explains that while ‘routinitis’ is seemingly benign, it can cause real damage: ‘epidemics of pessimism, tsunamis of discontent, catastrophic storms of bad moods. Smiling could become endangered.’ His gentle humour and accurate analysis of her malaise make Camille sit up and listen. She wants to have the courage to do what really makes her happy. She does not want to keep feeling that life is passing her by.
Herein lies the universal theme of the story. We all want to be happy. We all want to have the courage to make changes in our lives that will lead us to feelings of true fulfilment. None of us wants to feel that life is passing us by. Most of us want to live our lives to the full.
It takes courage and commitment to break out of routine, to recapture the excitement and passion of love that makes us go ‘weak at the knees’, to set boundaries with our children so that as parents we can also ‘have a life’.
Does Claude really have the answers? Well, the book proves that indeed he does. Gradually, by having faith in and following Claude’s steps towards a meaningful life, Camille’s life begins to change. She experiences the inevitable obstacles and frustrations and misgivings along the way. But with perseverance, she achieves happiness in surprising ways.
And the story ends with a curious twist.
I found the style and tone of writing interesting. In parts, it sounds more like a self-help book than a novel. This reveals the author’s profession as a personal development expert and the fact that this is her first novel. For me personally, this is one of the weaknesses of the writing. However, the story is strong enough to overcome that and the overall experience of the read is a feel-good impression. In the final analysis, it ‘works’, and that’s what matters the most in literature.
Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, Raphaelle Giordano, 2018, Penguin Random House Australia, Sydney, Australia. English translation copyright © Nick Caistor 2018. (First published in France in 2015 as Ta deuxieme vie commence quand tu comprends que tu n’en as qu’une by Groupe Eyrolles.)
About the author
Raphaelle Giordano is a writer, artist and personal development expert. She lives in Paris, France.