‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’ by Delphine de Vigan

Nothing Holds Back the Night’ by Delphine de Vigan  (2011) – 340 pages   Translated by George Miller

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Imagine you were to write a book reconstructing your mother’s life.  There would be large gaps in your knowledge especially for the years before you were born, so the book would necessarily be fiction.  However you want to be as close as possible to the facts and the spirit of your mother.  You interview aunts and uncles and others who were close to her.  You necessarily must invent conversations and even scenes to give your story authenticity.  This is what French writer Delphine de Vigan has done in her novel ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’.

I first became acquainted with the writing of de Vigan with her novel about the workplace called ‘Underground Time’.  That novel was such an intense and insightful look at office politics that I decided Delphine de Vigan is a writer to watch for any of her future novels.

“Nothing Holds Back the Night’ brings that intensity and insight to family life.  The novel makes no attempt to surprise the reader with its ending since the first few pages discuss finding her mother Lucile’s body after she committed suicide at age 61.

The book can easily be divided into two distinct parts.  The first part recreates the childhood of Lucile, and the second part deals with the adult years.

Lucile was born into a large middle-class family who lived outside of Paris.  She was the pretty one who got photographed for magazine ads; she also was the un-athletic one.

 “It grieved Liane to see her daughter (Lucile) was so unsporty: always the last to run, to jump into the water, to agree to a game of table tennis.  She was the last to get out of bed, quite simply, as though all of life were contained in the pages of books, as though it were enough to stay there, sheltered, contemplating life from a distance.”

 Although there are several childhood tragedies, one is left with the impression this was a happy family in the 1960s.  Family secrets are discussed in the novel which must have been tremendously embarrassing to other living members of the family.

The second part of the novel deals with Lucile’s adulthood when she goes off the rails.  She has two children by the age of twenty, and her marriage falls apart after six years.  During these years her daughter Delphine, our author, becomes a part of the story.

I really think that for fiction there is such a thing as being to0 close to the story.  The first half of this novel is lively and colorful as that family from the 1960s is re-imagined.  However the second half of the novel after Delphine is born is just too stark of a memoir.  I got the impression that large parts of the story had to necessarily be left out because they would be hurtful and might raise legal issues to some living people.

Basically this novel would have been much better if de Vigan had written it totally as fiction.  She certainly could have used scenes from her mother’s life in a story, but she would not have been limited by the memoir’s severe restrictions of accuracy.

As it is, I found her previous novel ‘Underground Time’ superior to ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’.  Still the first half of this second novel is good enough so that I will be watching for her future works.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. This reminds me of a book I read some time ago, An Exclusive Love, where the author tries to sort out why her parents took their lives (see http://anzlitlovers.com/2010/08/29/an-exclusive-love-by-johanna-adorjan-anthea-bell-translator/) and also Drusilla Modjeska’s Poppy, where she tries to reconstruct her mother with fiction filling the factual gaps. Both were risky books, because, as you say, there is the problem of hurting the feelings of others still alive.
    It has to be very well done indeed to overcome the ‘getting-it-off-my-chest’ syndrome. I mean, it’s ok for people to do that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a book that others will find to be satisfying reading.

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, memoirs may be more factually true, but fiction can be shaped to be more spiritually true, and that is what is important to me. As we’ve discussed before, very few memoirs transcend the divide into literature. Neither does a lot of fiction, but at least it has a better chance.

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  2. Posted by Mara on May 14, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    Agreed. Underground Time was a more mature and polished work. Not that I didn’t enjoy reading Nothing Holds Back the Night but I felt it was little tacky at times.

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    • Hi Mara,
      My View is similar to yours. Much of Nothing Holds Back the Night is very good. The parts she did not have to imagine what it was like, the times after she was boen, are the weakest.

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  3. Lovely point on the freedom offered by fiction, the constraints of staying too close to the facts. In a way there’s a risk of missing the truth of a situation precisely by ensuring it’s only the truth you tell.

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    • Hi Max,
      One of my main beliefs is that fiction gets closer to the truth than non-fiction. Non-fiction is just a collection of facts which the writer uses to make whatever point they want to make. Good fiction goes deeper. Subjective honesty means that you question your own view of the world.
      I just felt that the later part of ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’ had to hold back some of the story because there were people too close still alive who could be hurt by it.

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