5 October 2014

Delphine de Vigan: Jours sans faim | Days without Hunger (2001)

The title of Delphine de Vigan's autobiographical novel Jours sans faim is an obvious play on words: 'faim' has exactly the same pronunciation as 'fin'. The book was originally published in 2001 under the pseudonym Lou Delvig, and probably many people (like me) who read Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit before this much earlier book will feel that the narrator (Laure) is already familiar to them, along with her occasionally mentioned mother.

Here we have the story of an anorexic girl still in her teens, virtually a skeleton who is hospitalised to cure her from an illness she is often very reluctant to be cured of, seeing her battle as not so much against an illness as a battle against hunger itself, anorexia being the winner. Paradoxes abound here, and some of the reasoning is not far removed from madness.

There are some chilling scenes here, although there's friendship too, with the patients tending to each others' needs in small or big ways.

In the end it's perhaps the subterfuges, the tricks used by the patients to deceive the staff that stand out. For me it was Laure's cheating her way out of the hospital by pretending to weigh more than she actually did that amazed me – by concealing a kilo of rice when on the scales, withholding urination, drinking extra cups of tea, etc.

Sometimes there are flashbacks to other battles that serve as indicators of trouble breeding trouble, of problems within the family, of the father leaving for another woman, of the mother's madness and so on.

In the end, I feel that the particular French sub-genre of auto-fiction is not negative navel-gazing (or nombrilisme, to use the French term), and not just a form of self-analysis, but it's digging out the truth of how families pass on their maladies, how the illness within the family perpetuates itself. But Vigan's digging really bites: she has a genuine gift for it.

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Delphine de Vigan: Les heures souterraines
Delphine de Vigan: Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit
Delphine de Vigan: No et moi

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