“Writing can do nothing….it allows you to ask questions and interrogate memory”
Delphine de Vigan’s Nothing Holds Back The Night is a curious book to categorise. On one level, it should be easy : it is an account of the difficult, yet sometimes vibrantly experienced life of de Vigan’s mother. Lucile Poirier, born in 1946, was one of 9 children born to Georges and Liane Poirier. The family was extremely Bohemian. Lucile, remarkably beautiful, a rather introverted child in some ways, helped family finances through money earned as a child model. The family was beset by tragedy, and there was some history of mental and emotional fragility. There were also various family secrets, the nature of which can probably be surmised by the reader.
Delphine herself was born when Lucile was 19. She had fallen in love with the young brother of one of her father’s colleagues, and the two married in a hurry. Lucile was different from Delphine’s classmates’ mothers – more vibrant, more playful, more sophisticated, fun and glamorous. But she was also unstable and the instability took over. The marriage itself foundered quite quickly. Delphine had various love affairs which would buoy her up. Some of her partners were also unstable. Delphine and her younger sister Manon, sometimes with Lucile, sometimes with their father Gabriel and his new family, had a childhood far from ideal. There were periods where Lucile was institutionalised due to the severity of her bipolar disorder.
The book starts with Lucile’s shocking death in 2008, and Delphine’s discovery of her body. de Vigan at this point was an already published writer.
Lucile’s pain was part of our childhood and later part of our adult life. Lucile’s pain probably formed my sister and me. Yet every attempt to explain it is doomed to failure. And so I am forced to content myself with writing scraps, fragments and conjecture.
Writing can do nothing. At very best it allows you to ask questions and interrogate memory
She wrote Nothing Holds Back the Night because it was what she had to do, in part to understand her own story, and her mother’s. But she acknowledges it is not quite purely memoir. Much was underground, forgotten, hidden, denied, and different members of the Poirier family and others produced different memories. So, inevitably Delphine, in order to find the shape, pattern and sense of her mother’s life, acknowledges that what she is writing is part memoir, part fiction, the shaping of narrative to create pattern and story to events. Memory remembers some events and not others. And sometimes what is remembered is memory of someone else’s narrative of their memory. A memory of a story told, becomes an account of ‘this is the fact of what happened’. Sometimes, what gets forgotten is that memory is often as much interpretation as a laying out of moments taking place in time
De Vigan’s book won a couple of literary prizes. It is beautifully written, and here translated by George Miller. And I assume the translation is a sensitive and thoughtful one, as I lost awareness of the fact I was reading de Vigan’s words, images and thoughts through the filter of another person
I was brought to this difficult but strangely illuminating read, by a mention of it from another blogger, JacquiWine, which caused me to search out her earlier review, and then to read this myself