The blonde woman on the cover “wears a black turtleneck jumper, holds a cigarette in her left hand, she seems to be looking at someone or something, but likely isn’t looking at anything, her smile dark and sweet”*. The black and white woman immediately drew me to Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit, displayed between other recently published novels in a French train station in the middle of nowhere. For some reason, I was convinced she was the book author, Delphine de Vigan. I say for some reason, since nothing else about the cover, especially not the summary explaining the story was about her family and her mother, Lucile, suggested so.
I read Rien before all other Vigan novels, in between a Eurostar journey and my daily commute. The book stayed with me on the platform and working at my computer, it was the last thing I saw at night and the first thing I read in the morning. For a week, Lucile’s troubled world became mine, Vigan’s words impossible to shrug off. I didn’t know yet that Vigan’s foremost gift as a writer is to find the exact word to describe the anguish and torment of the human soul, but also the hope in bottomless darkness. Even reading her in George Miller English translations, you feel that the original verb had to be precise, lucid to allow such a seamless flow of sentences.
Rien is an abnormality in Vigan’s ten year writing career: it is double the size of her biggest previous novel, and, an acknowledged biography of her family with autobiographical forays, holds the key to her previous work. Having read Rien, you know Laure’s anorexia in Jours Sans Faim is hers, that Laure’s crazy mother is hers too. Lou’s family’s anguish after losing a child in No and Me mirrors her family’s and Mathilde’s misery at work in Underground Time was inspired by her own.
Vigan’s writing is to the point with a sense for surprise. Although craziness and untimely death are recurrent themes, her stories always took me to places I hadn’t expected. The ending of the first Les Jolis Garçons short story was my first literary surprise in weeks. Vigan’s talent for weaving inconspicuous details through a plot constantly keeps the reader alert, aware that although easy to read, her books demand attention and command introspection.
*Delphine de Vigan, Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (JC Lattès, 2011), p.436 translation my own.