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.