Delphine de Vigan’s Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (Nothing Holds Back The Night) begins with its heartbreaking end: the suicide of her mother, Lucile. With suspense set aside, de Vigan instead sets to the task of “writing her mother” by uncovering and unraveling her life in a story that is part memoir and part novel.
Lucile was one of nine children in a chaotic, spirited but close-knit family. By the age of seven, she was working as a fashion model, which garnered her attention from those within her immediate circle as well as those who recognized her from her posters throughout Paris. Doted on by so many, she claims to have “paid the price for her beauty.” Though, even as she laments the attention, she is acutely aware that her changing body prevents her from continuing the work and she must stand aside while her younger sisters take her place. As she navigates her youth and adolescence, her family suffers more than its share of tragedy, the impact of which stays with Lucile as she emerges into adulthood. As she steadily grows older, her mental state also becomes increasingly unstable with frequent episodes of mania, depression, and delusion, setting the uneven rhythm for the rest of her life. Her tenuous grasp on reality, of course, also punctuates the lives of her two daughters, who survive her mother’s vacillations, but not unscathed.
While telling of the story of her mother, de Vigan interweaves her own journey to discover her and reach her in some way that she perhaps couldn’t as a child. She culls through letters and notes written by Lucile at various points in her life and during varying degrees of lucidity; a documentary video of the family recorded by a local TV station; nearly 50 hours of audio recordings from her grandfather; and interviews with as many members of her family as are willing to participate. The second half of the book shifts in tone and in speaker as de Vigan explores her own memories and intertwines them with everyone else’s allowing the reader to become a witness to a private exploration of suffering. She is aware that telling her mother’s story is a flawed and beautifully imperfect undertaking and she seems to prefer it that way. It is, after all, not unlike her mother.
Catherine Savino is a FR-EN translator, project manager, and writer originally from Detroit and currently living in sunny San Diego.