Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger

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Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kate Jones
Reviewed by Kate Jones
Summary: A light, sweet, heart-warming novel about a budding friendship between a gentle giant of a man and an elderly woman in Paris.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1782271581

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This novel will make you smile. It's a feel-good story, unusual in its premise and original. Germaine is a 45 year old man who is illiterate. He has a group of drinking friends who frequently make him the butt of their jokes, a mother who calls him a 'half-wit', amongst other things, and a girlfriend whom he appears afraid of committing to. Germain spends many afternoons in the park, counting pigeons and writing his name among the dead of the war memorial. It is here that he meets Margueritte, a tiny 85 year old woman who tells him she also counts the pigeons.

Roger's writing has strong elements of humour and the book is written with a lightness of touch. Germain comes across as slightly slow, but has a dry wit, which often it seems he doesn't even realise. He feels ashamed that he can't read, but doesn't speak to anyone about this. Margueritte is a well educated woman and a keen reader, and asks Germain if he would mind if she read to him in the park, as she likes to read aloud. So opens up a lovely, sweet relationship where the two of them meet regularly, talking about life and books. Germain doesn't want to let on to Margueritte that he can't actually read, though elements of this are released in increments. The story is punctuated with examples and definitions of new words Germain learns, and looks up in the dictionary Margueritte gives to him.

Although the story has a light touch, it does have some wonderfully profound lines, such as: But she always talked to me like I was a person. And you see, that can change a man. We see Germain develop from a gentle giant of a man who has had little chances into a more confident, thoughtful person, much of it through the world of reading, books, language and the attention and respect of another person. We hear Germain, quite uniquely I think for a story, develop what he refers to as a kind of falling in love with Margueritte; he develops a love for the elderly woman who he wishes he could adopt as his grandmother. But it feels that this letting in of another person also opens up Germain to the affection he feels for Annette, the woman he has been seeing, and opens him up to the idea of there being more to his life than he realised.

The book is easy to read in a couple of sittings, would appeal to book lovers, and would also be an ideal book to take on a trip. It is impossible not to fall in love with Germain and Margueritte and not to like the colourful characters who surround them. This is a book you could return to, especially if you needed to put a smile on your face.

If you liked this, you might like: Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom.

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Buy Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger at


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