Firstly, a huge thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
One day Michka finds that she is missing something, a part of her feels lost and that frightens her. Wanting to protect and ensure the best for her, Marie, a girl who is like a daughter to Michka, moves her into a home where she will be safe. However, this makes Michka even more afraid. Each day she loses more of her words, her ability to express herself, which is just one thing that frightens her. At the home she meets Jérôme, a speech therapist who is determined to help the ageing population keep hold of their words. However, Michka has an old debt she needs to repay but will she be able to before she loses language completely…?
Gratitude centres on the lives of three characters, with the narrative alternating between them. We have Marie, a young woman who has had a troubled childhood, Jérôme an optimistic speech therapist who dedicates himself to helping older people reclaim lost language and finally Michka, a woman who has spent her entire life working with words but they have suddenly started to disappear. Although this is a novella, you very quickly build a relationship and become endeared to each character in a way that feels as though you have known them for a lot longer. Whilst Michka is the protagonist of the novella, we primarily see her through Marie’s and Jérôme’s perspectives. I thought this was a great way of introducing her character. She was so strong and determined yet scared and vulnerable which felt so genuine and raw which broke my heart.
I also loved the different ways she interacted with Marie and Jérôme and what she does for these people even if she doesn’t realise it. We also learn a lot about Michka just through what Marie and Jérôme do for her and what they think about her. Seeing how they have opened their hearts to her and how she does the same means you find it happening to you too. I also really loved Jérôme and his love of his work. I just loved his view of his work and the people that he worked with. It was so fascinating to read, both somber and inspiring.
The way that de Vigan illustrates Aphasia and its impact on Michka, and those around her, was particularly well done. At first it just appeared to be the odd slip of the tongue but as the story progressed we saw how it’s much more than that. This is made even more impactful by the fact that this is a novella, so it seems to take hold of her very quickly. Additionally, the fact that the novel is written in such a beautifully poetic, almost lyrical, way really emphasised the importance and power of language so to witness a character begin to lose this was a very emotional read.
However, whilst this novella is powerful and emotional, there are plenty of moments that make you smile and make you think. Whilst I would have loved Michka’s past to be further developed and more information regarding her ‘guilt’ to be shared, the fact that she was determined to do and to find, as well as the connections she made through her life was so fascinating and inspiring. The entire theme of this novel is, as the title suggests, ‘gratitude’ but more importantly to get you to reflect upon when you have been thankful, genuinely too not just small everyday thank yous. This novella also serves as a reminder to tell those you love how you truly feel, how they have genuinely helped you or helped shape you for the better. As the novella points out, there is no set or ‘proper’ way to measure gratitude, yet it’s still important to express it while you can regardless. Which, now more than ever, seems even more important.
I really enjoyed spending a couple of hours with these characters and reading their stories, and although I shed some tears at times I feel better for having read it. This novella seems to have come at the perfect time and it’s one you should definitely make time for.