Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Books.
Just joining us? Here's what we're reading this month, for R29 Book Club. And, here's our discussion of Part I of Katherine Pancol's novel.
Next up, Part II. And, this one really made us think about the power of hard work — as well as its folly. Our quietly determined protagonist, Joséphine, slogs her way through the drudgery of summer, working multiple odd jobs on top of her research work, making ends meet for her family after her husband runs off with another woman. And, he, in turn, takes advantage of her, tricking her into cosigning a loan for his ridiculous crocodile-farming enterprises. Loathsome, to be sure, but we have to pause a moment at Jo's total willingness to take on another person's debt. She doesn't look for a way out — a loophole or a shortcut of some kind. She just takes on the weight of this added injustice and, by the end of the section, finds a way to make it work.
And, here's the thing. We know Jo will metamorphose into a swan by the end of this thing. Call it ESP (maybe our boobs can tell when it's raining, too). But, while we're happy to come along for the ride and watch it happen, we want something more, too. Luckily, since this is a French novel, we're assuming the underlying theme we're really going to want to focus on is money. Pancol has already said that the yellow crocodile eyes represent the appeal of riches, glittering in the darkness. And, we see Jo seduced by the promise of €50,000 at the end of this section (as well as a healthy dose of guilt, courtesy of Iris' manipulations). So, we're pretty curious to see what kind of nuance Pancol brings to our protagonist's journey.
That said, what we're most intrigued by here is this stark contrast between the women who take shortcuts and cheat their way to fulfillment and success (Iris) and the ones who kill themselves doing the thankless work (Jo). Because this is something we tend to think about a lot. Personally, we've always been the types to put our heads down and do the work, pay our dues, and assume that dedication and work ethic would eventually pay off. And, we've been fortunate in our lives and careers, and have been proven right, mostly. But, sometimes, when we're approaching burnout and feeling worn out and exhausted, we have to question that approach. Aren't there shortcuts and easier ways to succeed? Career hacks, if you will? Especially in this day and age, where 25-year-old start-up millionaires and street-style superstars, among others, are calling into question the value of said dues-paying? We're not suggesting there is no value to hard work, but we are wondering if novels like this one, painting such black-and-white lines, do personalities like our own a disservice, encouraging the idea that the noble thing to do is not just to work, but to do it quietly in the background, and assume that eventually, glory will come? We're not entirely positive yet, but the book is certainly making us think. Care to share your thoughts in the comments?