First of all, I think necessary to highlight the strange “detached from time” feeling of the story: if not for small details, a car, a mobile phone, the story could have been well without time. Maybe it was the initial setting, a small French country village, or maybe it was the conservative society where they were living, but I had to double check more than once that I was not actually reading a recent past story. Actually, well into the story, the author specified the first past of the story was set in 1998, in a supposedly modern, and more liberal, society.
Ben is a 34 years old American college professor who is taking a sabbatical year in the French country to paint. He is looking for outdoor particular view and he rents a room from a couple of brother and sister. He is warned by the sister her brother, Jean-Yves, is a simpleton, and indeed, when he first meets the guy, he hardly believes the boy is 22 years old. Not only in body, but also in attitude Jean-Yves is “retarded”, almost like his growing was stopped somewhen before puberty.
With time, and care, Ben will learn that indeed Jean-Yves went through a tragic, and cruel, trauma when he was barely a kid, and Ben feared the damage was permanent. It was not, and Ben is the turning point in Jean-Yves’s lives, more or less another trauma, this time positive, that let the boy’s growth spurs again to reach its rightly fulfilment.
And that is the other point that makes this novel original and against the common romance rule: you would think that, after being the reason why Jean-Yves was able to overcome the tragedy in his past, Ben would have done everything to be with him, right? And instead, when his sabbatical year comes to end, Ben is back to USA, leaving a still fragile Jean-Yves to fend for himself. Moreover, while it’s true that Jean-Yves seems to have built a life for himself, he also is always dreaming of when they will be back together, and instead Ben has almost forgotten his love for him, arriving even to consider to not going back as promised.
I think the author wanted to prove that love is a feeling you need to cultivate, but also that, if you really believe in it, everything is possible. I think that Ben was not really into Jean-Yves as the other man was; Ben was enthralled by the young boy, but he was clear from the beginning, Jean-Yves was not really his type. That is not the same for the grown man Jean-Yves will become, and that is probably the moment when the love story begun, at least for Ben’s point of view. This is probably the reason why I think I liked better Jean-Yves, I think he was the one who made everything possible, and in a way, he was the one who saved himself: Ben helped, but more like a prize candy for a boy, like the prize Jean-Yves knew he was getting if he managed to reach his goals.
As I told the story is complex and long, spanning more than 7 years, and you will live intensely beside these two men, seeing them grow and evolve, and I’m not referring only to Jean-Yves, on the contrary, I think Ben did a lot of growing himself, and sincerely, I didn’t like him so much at the beginning, he was aloof and even a little harsh, but I did like the man he was at the end of the story.
Amazon: P'tit Cadeau
Amazon Kindle: P'tit Cadeau
Paperback: 486 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (February 20, 2011)