Delphine De Vigan A French Lit Discovery

Our new theme is France and all things French relating to culture. I have chosen to write about Delphine De Vigan, an author that I have recently discovered, who is causing a bit of a buzz on the literary scene with her latest title ‘Based On a True Story.’ She is Parisian and captures a very personal view of France that resonates with many readers.

No and Me

No and Me is DeVigan’s first title translated into English and was chosen as a Radio 4 book of the week. No and Me tells the story of Lou Bertignac an Autistic teenage girl who experiences a disruptive home life due to her parent’s unhappy marriage. She embarks on a school project about homelessness where she meets ‘No’ another teenage girl who is homeless and persuades her parents to let No live with them. This charming novel is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye as it reads as if it was written by the protagonist. A really innovative book that highlights homelessness and humanity.

Underground Time

This was the first book of De Vigan’s that I read and is the beginning of her move into what we now know her for, her autobiographical fiction or ‘Autofiction.’ Underground Time is based around the story of two principle narrators; Mathilde a single mother of two boys who works in a market research firm and Thibault who is an emergency doctor on call who has a complicated romantic relationship. Mathilde owns the bulk of the narrative as she experiences the most awful experience of ostracising and workplace bullying from her boss Jacques. The incidences of bullying are so realistic that you cannot help to feel that De Vigan has gone through something similar in real life. You want these two to end up together but this book may not guarantee a Disney-fied ending!

Nothing Holds Back the Night

Nothing Holds Back the Night was my most difficult read of De Vigan’s work as it is imbued with such melancholy. It concerns the difficult life of her mother Lucile and comes across as a painfully real account. Lucile suffered from Bi-Polar disorder and alcoholism. She was from an extremely large family and had many siblings who experienced neglect and tragedy in their midst. The house was extremely chaotic and full of anxiety. Lucile’s mother Liane preferred her children when they were babies, turning cold to them when they grew up. (At one point she is described as physically pushing the elder children away when they wanted attention). The children also experienced neglect with the mother regularly going out in the day leaving them alone in the house. Liane and her husband even went away for a business trip to London leaving the children alone in France when the eldest were not even teenagers yet! The figure of De Vigan’s grandfather is presented as another story altogether. He was a classic Narcissist and most probably had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as he demanded attention from all of those around him and frequently got into heated arguments at social gatherings with those who dared to contradict him. He was consistently unfaithful to his wife and inflicted his criticisms and moods on to her and their children. As if this was not stressful enough, De Vigan obliquely references that he may well have committed sexual abuse with his children and children’s friends. De Vigan strongly points this aspect as being a key one which may have caused her mother’s mental state to freefall into chaos. This is a difficult read as it is quite depressing at times but hopeful for the future in that De Vigan has clearly chosen to raise her children very differently and break this dysfunctional family cycle.

Based On a True Story

The most recent book to be translated into English is the aforementioned Based on a True Story This fascinating tale explores the character of L, an immaculately presented female who infiltrates the life of Delphine the protagonist. This book is a really innovative twist on the hugely influential and popular psychological thriller genre in that it is written in the style of autofiction. So, you are not sure what is true and what is not. De Vigan has a very distinctive writing style that has been cleverly maintained by the excellent translator George Miller. I have read some reviews that feel that this book is not as exciting as some of the more conventional psychological thrillers as it is not completely action packed with twists and turns. That is true to some extent in that it is less action focused but what it does offer is a detailed character study and fascination with the topic of identity that I really enjoyed and would recommend that you seek it out.

Overall, these books represent just a small slice of contemporary French literature, but De Vigan is a fascinating author if you are at all interested in psychological aspects and the merging of the genres of autobiography and fiction. I look forward to seeing what she has in store for us next!

Published by

Jo Cameron-Symes

I believe cultural criticism and analysis should be both accessible and help to further enrich peoples' lives. I have an MA from the University of York in the Sociology of Contemporary Culture and was previously the Chair of a regional charity for people with long term illness. During my time as Chair I noticed that the people I met who embraced culture and used it to enrich and explore their lives found that it enhanced their quality of life. Through accessing and exploring exhibitions, media and gardens that helped people including myself to cope with their current life situation.

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