This is Vigan's 'livre de ma mère', essentially concerning her mother but necessarily also her mother's family and of course herself. The information is largely culled from people's memories, obviously including her own, and incorporates film, tapes, her mother's autobiographical writings, etc. Inevitably there must be some guesswork in the reconstruction, such as the fictionalization of dialogue.
The narrator calls her mother by her forename Lucile and describes her grandparents' household with its eventual total of nine children, although there were never nine at the same time.
Lucile's parents George and Liane and the rest of the family suffered three early losses: Antonin, who fell down a well at the age of eight; the adopted Jean-Marc, who was abused by his natural mother and died in bed from auto-erotic asphyxiation at fourteen; and Milo, who killed himself at twenty-eight and may have been involved in a suicide pact with two friends.
Lucile suffered from bipolar disorder, her daughter being used to trying to detect when a crisis would occur, when her mother would be re-admitted to a psychiatric hospital. The narrator mentions in passing that she too was briefly admitted to hospital for anorexia, which Vigan describes in Jours sans faim* (2001), translated as Days without Hunger and originally published under the pseudonym Lou Delvig.
It's quite possible that Lucile's life was traumatised by her father raping her at the age of sixteen, which is what she claimed, and the narrator finds two other women – one of them being another daughter – who were rather alarmed by George's behaviour towards them in their youth. But on the other hand Lucile's repeated written descriptions of the supposed rape don't exactly tally.
The narrator sometimes interrupts the narrative to describe how she went about finding her information and/or what difficulties she had in writing the book, and in passing she mentions Christine Angot's L'Inceste (for obvious reasons) and Lionel Duroy's Le Chagrin (as if fearing negative reactions within her own family – although certainly not from her sister Manon). Neither Marie Cardinal's Les Mots pour le dire nor Valérie Valère's Le Pavillon des enfants fous is mentioned, although there are similarities.
Towards the end of the book (and Lucile's life) the narrator says the doctor made the situation clear:
'either he put Lucile back in a chemical straitjacket, in which case she wouldn't have been able to work; or he gave her a chance to lead a normal life, and we had to accept that she expressed some irrational or suspicious ideas [...] "Like many people who aren't considered to be ill."'
She had the chance, but tragically it didn't last long.
At four hundred pages this book never flags, and it's even more riveting than the two earlier novels. I'm not too sure how she'll follow it up, but then Vigan's first directed film – À coup sûr – was released at the beginning of the year.
*The word 'faim' is pronounced the same as 'fin', and it's difficult not to see an intentional play on words.
Clip of 'Osez Joséphine', plus links to my earlier posts:
Alain Bashung: Osez Joséphine
Delphine de Vigan: No et Moi
Delphine de Vigan: Jours sans faim