He had managed to navigate his way to the French language section of the bookshop; now he had no idea what to do. Some of the titles were at least recognizable. Madame Bovary
... but surely she would have read it? And the same went for Du côté de chez Swann
. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all.
"Can I help you?"
The assistant - a lapel badge said her name was Sophie - looked like she was in her late twenties. Short dark hair, earnest expression, French accent. He cleared his throat.
"I'm looking for a book. A present for - for a friend."
It occurred to him that he had no idea what the nature of their relationship was. Sophie ignored his confusion.
"You must tell me a little more."
What kind of books did she like? She always seemed to be reading something, and usually it was in French. He was sure of that much. The covers were tasteful. No swooning women or bare-chested men. So why did he imagine she read romances?
"I don't really know. Not literature, and not a romance. Well, maybe a bit of both. Does that make sense? And a short book, something that would fit in a handbag. She always carries them in her handbag."
At least he had come up with one concrete fact. He could see the handbag quite clearly in his mind's eye: he had a good sense for spatial relations, and it was obvious at a glance that most of the books were too big.
"Maybe this? L'Ecume des jours
, of Boris Vian?"
It would certainly fit, but didn't it look familiar?
"No, I'm almost sure she was reading that last month."
"But we are getting closer! She likes a mélange
of tragedy and comedy, an inventive style. You agree? Now just one more thing about her, and I am sure we will find it!"
He tried to concentrate. Really, he hardly knew her at all.
"I believe her father is Swedish."
"Ah, but then I have it precisely. Here!"
She darted to a nearby shelf and returned with a slim volume.
"David Foenkinos, La délicatesse
. A bit of sadness, a bit of love, a bit of play with the words. And the héros
is from Sweden. If she does not like it, I return your money."
She was so delighted with her find that he was too; for the first time that afternoon, he felt happy and confident. He had paid for the book and was halfway to Leicester Square station before he realized that what he really wanted to do was continue talking to Sophie. But when he returned to the shop, they had already closed.