Delphine de Vigan: Nothing holds back the night

de vigan

In books of this kind (as de Vigan says, the seam has been mined and the subject overworked) the search for the parent can turn out to be an enquiry into the author’s self. One of the most refreshing aspects of  Nothing Holds Back The NIght (Bloomsbury 2013) is that its dynamic drives towards Lucile, the mother, rather than towards Delphine, the writer-daughter.

All the same Gert couldn’t help thinking of the Pompidou building, in which all the plumbing and electric circuitry are on the outside. Delphine de Vigan scrambles and climbs all round the outside of this building, which is the life of the Poirier family that contains her mother Lucile’s life, trying to get inside. But she never does, for all the vivacity with which the family is created and the gallant pathos of the bipolar Lucile is set before us. This is not a failing in the book, but the inevitable outcome of such literary efforts, de Vigan herself realises. Who can ‘write’ another person, as de Vigan says she set out to do? She searches her own memories, interviews her mother’s family and friends, reads Lucile’s letters and writings, and weaves all this into an engrossing and touching story, but there is a profound silence at the heart of it, the silence of Lucile, who, even in childhood, seemed to be leading ‘a parallel existence’. And while this silence may seem to attach particularly to those dislocated by mental illness, in the end don’t we all intuit something of that silence in ourselves, something unreachable even to ourselves?

De Vigan wrote the screenplay for a rather good film called You will be my son. In NHBTN we have a large, turbulent, good-looking French family in a range of highly-filmable settings in the French countryside and in Paris, a strikingly beautiful main character with a tragic descent into mental illness, a writer daughter trying to make sense of it all – don’t be surprised if this one turns up as a film too.

Here’s a good NY Times review:




8 thoughts on “Delphine de Vigan: Nothing holds back the night

  1. There’s a lot of emotional distancing between the author and the subject here–I think that’s the natural result of the relationship and the need to distance oneself from the mental illness. I think this would a completely different book if the author wrote it, in let’s say 20 years.

    1. That’s interesting. I didn’t experience it that way. I felt as if that distancing came from the unreachableness of the mother. Whichever it was, I did appreciate the fact that it wasn’t about Delphine herself. So many books about parents are – I was disappointed by Mary Gordon’s “The Shadow Man” for that reason, though I know many people think very highly of it.

      BTW, last night I heard an interesting discussion of “Summer House with Swimming Pool” on a book program here, with guests including Meg Wohlitzer. Four of the five panellists disliked it, a lot.

  2. I think that with a parent with mental problems, the distancing is there. On the subject of Summer House w/swimming Pool, I loved the first part but it didn’t quite gel with the conclusion–almost as it there were two novels in one cover.

  3. Very interesting. Having read your review, I can now recall your comments on the silence around Lucile (probably in your response to my piece back in the summer). I see what you mean…I do feel de Vigan got a little closer to understanding her mother through this experience, but I wonder if it’s ever possible to get to the heart of someone as vulnerable and complex as Lucile?

    That’s such an interesting thought about the possibility of a screen adaptation – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happens at some point.

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