Sometimes your brain needs an escape. Sometimes you just want to read something lovely that will make you happy and feel warm on the inside. This usually doesn’t come in the form of the Man Booker winner or “the new Gone Girl.” Instead, you want something short and sweet that will make you smile. Clelie Avit’s I’m Still Here is exactly that. It’s a switch off and read kind of book and it’s lovely.
This is Avit’s first book to be translated into English and that is the version I read. I needed a brain cleanse at the time I picked up this book. I’d read too many heavy things and was feeling a little weighed down by the woes of the world – woes that were echoed in the literature I was choosing. Enter, I’m Still Here, a modern Sleeping Beauty, in which the beauty in question, Elsa, is in a coma.
Elsa is a girl filled with life. She is in a coma due to a mountain climbing accident that happened months ago. Recently, her mind has begun to waken; she can hear! She hears the hospital cleaning lady’s radio. She can hear the doctors discussing her condition (not good, by the way) and she can hear her little sister enter the room with a new boy at her side every other week. The problem is: she can’t do anything else. She can’t open her eyes or move her body. Elsa is suffering from locked-in syndrome.
Enter our knight in shining armor, Thibault. Thibault’s brother has just killed two teenage girls in a drunken car accident. He’s at the hospital to visit his brother following the accident, but finds he cannot enter his room. He finds he hates his brother and, to escape these feelings, enters an empty hospital room however it isn’t empty, Elsa is there. Thibault then proceeds to think aloud in Elsa’s presence and she listens, though he doesn’t know that. Feelings form and romance blossoms in the minds of both, though neither really understand how it is possible and why it affects them so deeply considering one half is an unconscious stranger.
I know a love story where one person is in a coma seems odd. It sparked a lot of debates among my friends as to whether it was wholly inappropriate too (A lot of horrible real-life hospital incidents involving coma patients were brought up). Thibault ends up lying next to Elsa on her hospital bed and, when I thought about this more, I suppose that isn’t quite right but when you’re in the middle of the book, you don’t care. You know the story from both sides. You’ve heard Elsa’s thoughts, can see her internal smile in your head and you know it solely as a lovely gesture and not anything creepy or weird.
I have never been a big romance reader. I went through my Marian Keyes phase years ago and devoured each and every one of her books, but I think that was basically it. Then recently, I read Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You and my soppy side was unleashed. Actually, Avit’s tone is quite similar to Jojo Moyes and Thibault’s and Elsa’s situation is similar to that of Will and Lou; one is unable to move and is lost whilst the other has been through a lot and heals due to the other’s presence. Moyes’ book has been endlessly popular and I think Avit’s book will definitely appeal to readers of Me Before You.
I’m Still Here is an adorable, romantic and lovely modern fairy tale. It worked as a palate cleanser to my woe-cluttered reader’s brain, but it also made me really happy when reading it. It was just so wonderful. It was more than just a light fluff piece in between harder-hitting books. In fact, those heavier books have now been pushed out of my mind completely while Thibault and Elsa’s journey together keeps coming back. There really is something about a really nice book that makes you happy and keeps making you happy long after the last page has been turned.