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Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan

June 16, 2013 39 comments

Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit by Delphine de Vigan. 2012 English title: Nothing Holds Back the Night. 

book_club_2Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit was highly praised when it was published and I’m glad we had it on our Book Club list for this month. Delphine de Vigan started this novel after her mother Lucile committed suicide. She found her dead in her apartment, four days after she took her life. Imagine the shock, the sight, the stench and the pain. This book is a quest to find out about her mother, who she was, where her pain came from.

Sans doute avais-je envie de rendre un hommage à Lucile, de lui offrir un cercueil de papier – car de tous, il me semble que ce sont les plus beaux – et un destin de personnage.

Mais je sais aussi qu’à travers de l’écriture je cherche l’origine de sa souffrance, comme s’il existait un moment précis où le noyau de sa personne eût été entamé d’une manière définitive et irréparable, et je ne peux ignorer combien cette quête, non contente d’être difficile, est vaine.

I was certainly willing to pay a tribute to Lucile, to give her a paper coffin – because it seems to me that they are the most beautiful of all – and the destiny of a character.

But I also know that I’m writing to find out the origin of her pain, as if there were a precise moment were the kern of her being had been damaged forever and beyond repair. I cannot ignore that this quest is difficult and most of all, vain.

I don’t think it makes sense to summarise the events that Delphine de Vigan relates in her book. Suffice to say that Lucile faced several dramas in her childhood, that her beauty was a curse. She grew up among eight siblings, three of them died of an untimely death. Her parents were unconventional, bordering irresponsible. She was always a secretive child. She married young and pregnant. She wasn’t cut out for motherhood even if she loved her daughters. She was bipolar and her demons ate her alive, bit her daughters’ childhood and left a permanent dent in their bodies and souls. She had prolonged stays in psychiatric institutions and her siblings and children were always concerned about her. Yet, she was strong enough to start afresh at forty.

This is Lucile’s story and it is a peculiar one, her own, interesting enough to make a book. But that’s not what makes the book so compelling.

The true achievement of the novel is in the narration. The chapters alternate between Lucile’s story and the author’s struggle with her task. Writing this cost her a lost of energy and resulted in sleepless nights. She interviewed her family and dug out memories. Not all of them were pleasant ones. She read all the material her mother left (letters, poems, diaries, notes) She listened to the tapes her grand-father had recorded. She re-read her own diaries. All this stirred a lot of emotions, raised a lot of questions.

J’écris ce livre parce que j’ai la force aujourd’hui de m’arrêter sur ce qui me traverse et parfois m’envahit, parce que je veux savoir ce que je transmets, parce que je veux cesser d’avoir peur qu’il nous arrive quelque chose comme si nous vivions sous l’emprise d’une malédiction, pour pouvoir profiter de ma chance, de mon énergie, de ma joie, sans penser que quelque chose de terrible va nous anéantir et que la douleur, toujours, nous attendra dans l’ombre.

I’m writing this book because I am now strong enough to think about what goes through me and sometimes invades me. Because I want to know what I pass on, because I want to stop dreading that something will happen to us, as if we were living under a bad spell. I want to be able to make the most of the chance I have, of my energy or of my joy without thinking that something terrible will crush us and that pain will always wait for us in the shadows.

This novel is both an homage to Lucile and a therapy for the author, or is therapy too strong a word? Perhaps it was just part of her healing process. I genuinely hope it brought her peace.

Vigan_NuitShe’s well aware that some of the things she writes won’t please her family. She tells her doubts, silently asks for their forgiveness, shares the reassurance she gets from some relatives. To me, she seemed strong and fragile at the same time. Strong in her resolution to finish her project. Fragile about herself. I noticed that she never says my ex-husband or my partner; she says my children’s father or the man I love as if writing my before a noun referring to a spouse burnt her hand or could jinx the relationship.

This book is different from what I expected. She voices her uncertainties about her right to do this, the accuracy of what she’ll write and the fear to reopen old wounds. She’s not here to settle her differences or to judge her family. However, she doesn’t shy away from the truth even if she knows it can only be her truth. She pays attention to her relatives’ feelings but doesn’t let them get in the way of her work, her quest.

Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit is remarkable, overwhelming with sincerity. It’s hard for me to convey all the emotion and sadness this book kindled. Life is harder for some than for others; Delphine de Vigan had a difficult childhood but turned into a great novelist.

PS: Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit is a quote from the lyrics of a famous song by Alain Bashung, Osez Joséphine. Delphine de Vigan says she was listening to Bashung when she wrote the book. She passed this on to this reader, the song was in my head all along.

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