Nothing Holds Back the Night, by Delphine de Vigan
Author’s candid memoir about her mother’s tragic life and suicide is unsettlingly real and raw
Nothing Holds Back the Night
Delphine De Vigan
More than 200 pages into this devastatingly ambivalent narrative, an emphatic and candid family memoir that is presented as autofiction yet never leaves one doubting that everything did happen more or less as described by de Vigan, the narrator recalls a taxi journey she undertook, some months earlier, to Charles de Gaulle Airport, outside Paris. By this stage the reader will have already, most likely, retreated into the role of mesmerised listener.
To read this exact book is to engage in an act of silent witness to a private account that is also a wider exploration of life and individual suffering as well as an investigation of the morality, ethics and motivation of writing. De Vigan asks for nothing – not even our sympathy – except our attention. She set out to tell her mother’s sad story, and does. In the course of telling it she looks to her own childhood, as well as to that of her mother.
The reader feels the weight of the series of dawning truths that have assailed the narrator and in turn have a near physical impact on the reader. The taxi ride is untypical: the narrator rarely takes them, probably because of the often horrific taxi trips she associates with her mother. And “the truth is”, she tells us, “that I always end up feeling sick in the back of cars”.
But that day was different; she did take a cab. “The driver began asking me where I was going, the reason for my trip, my job . . . I ended up telling him that I was a writer.” The cab driver’s reaction is stunningly astute – “what caused that?” – and de Vigan describes feeling that he had said it “exactly as though it were an illness, or even a punishment or a curse”. She takes a pause, as if allowing her reader to shudder at the notion and then prepare to read on as a conduit to share in her hell or, worse still, as a voyeur. If this narrative has a prevailing thesis, it is that writing feeds a hunger and can, at times, keep the ghosts at bay.
Full of pain
“When I meet readers in libraries, bookshops or schools, I’m often asked why I write. I write because of January 31st, 1980.” It appears blunt on the page, and it is, if only partly so. On that January day her mother experienced total insanity as her daughters looked on and the police arrived. Throughout the narrative a statement is made, a fact presented, then the narrator, as if looking at a photograph, steels herself before moving on to elaborate. This is a remarkable book. It is full of pain, anger, bitter remorse and a writer’s cool exploration of the demands of a story apparently instigated by her finding her mother’s body, five days after a lethal overdose. Her mother had decided to die while “she was still alive”.