What I have been reading (5)

I could  bring only one book in French from  Montreal (suitcase). I hesitated between several books before going fore  D’Après une histoire vraie   (Based on a True Story) from Delphine de Vigan. A few weeks later, the book obtained the prestigious Renaudot and the  Lycéens Prizes . But it is because of a review  I read on a blog that I selected this one, rather than another one, as it  mentioned that de  Vigan addressed the issue of the border between reality and fiction, a  subject I have a keen interest in.
The story begins with the description of  a known writer, Delphine de Vigan, who met success with  the publication of a book about the mental illness of her mother (Nothing holds back the night),   but now finds herself  feeling fragile and in lack of inspiration.  L., who wants to be her female friend, takes the opportunity  to creep  into and take possession of Vigan’s  life.

When I bought the book, I was convinced that it was self-fiction, but after reading a few pages, I realized that the topic was a bit more complex than it seemed.


As famously said Coetzee (I paraphrase him here), writing about oneself is to make fiction and writing fiction is always only about oneself. This assertion is not new, but seems increasingly relevant today when the virtual world creeps into everyone’s life and that one is free to invent oneself  as one  wishes, while reality shows do not hesitate to dramatize reality to improve  their ratings. I’m not at all surprised that this book  received the  High Schoolers Prize, since  young people have been  navigating in these troubled waters   since birth.


It was the first book I read from this author, but I had seen a film based on one of her  books at Christchurch Film Festival, a few years ago: You Will Be My Son (a film that had me  deeply troubled) without knowing that it was a scenario taken from  Vigan’s book.


It is here previous book (Nothing holds back the night)  which made her  successful but  I knew nothing  about it  except from what is mentioned in  Based on a true story that contains many references to its success, the reactions to which it gave rise (anonymous letters, among other things), or the question of what can be done after writing a book about oneself  or one’s family. The fact that she  inserted references about her own life as an author, leads the readers to believe in a number of occasions that one is dealing with  hardly disguised self-fiction. The technique is clever.  Moreover, the character of L., as  Vigan said in an interview,  exists in one form or another somewhere, and is therefore credible. We have all experienced varying degrees these beings that appear to feel the need to seize the lives of others, either because they do not appear to be satisfied  by their owns or because their own lives   just seem not to be enough.

The book  also addresses  the creative process, the source of  inspiration, or how to deal with success. All this is interesting and I truly enjoyed it, as if the  author felt she had to  give  parts of herself away to the public in order to satisfy its insatiable thirst for  the lives of their favorites authors.


This is perhaps also the desire to make L. credible which  pushed Vigan to insert many passages where    L.’s appearance or   behaviour is methodically described.  These detailed passages are convincing when it comes to make  L. more true, but they do seem to bring anything to the narrative. Was it a deliberate technique? Maybe, but it did  not convince me, whether in the passage in the subway, where L is attacking a man she throws  out of the subway, or when  L., having moved in  at Delphine’s place, goes  into a rage because the mix is ​​not working. We have no doubt that Vigan witnessed such scenes, but they appear to perform no function at all in the story and dilute rather they add, to a content that could have been much denser.


Moreover, I have not been seduced by the style of Vigan and this is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the book (for me). I have nothing against the simplicity of style, on the contrary, not even its austerity (that of Coetzee’s, for example), but in the case of Vigan, it just seems to me that there has been insufficient proofreading of  the manuscript.


Finally, I would have liked to feel a little more presence of the narrator, who seems to make a Herculean effort to disappear in her “objective” report, to make her story more true. It seems to me that by doing so, an important element of the debate on the question of the border between reality and fiction is lost and it left me hungry for more. Not enough, however, to have regretted having spent a few hours on a book, which remained in my thoughts after I read the last page, which is always a very good sign.

This book is not available in English, but the previous one, Nothing holds the night back, is, for those who would like to know about one of the few French authors who has been  able to leave her day job to write full time.

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