Prompted by her mother’s suicide, a French author delicately combines memoir, biography and fiction to explore her family’s increasingly dark psychology. The book has sold an estimated half a million copies in France.
Initially, after de Vigan (Underground Time, 2011, etc.) discovered the corpse of her mother, Lucile Poirier, she resisted the idea of writing about her but eventually felt she had no choice. Drawing on the testimonies of family members, as well as letters, photos and home movies, she assembled this disturbing account of her sensitive mother’s life growing up in a large, affectionate, but complex family in post–World War II France. Unusually beautiful, Lucile was a successful child model and star, but her fame fed a desperate wish for invisibility and peace, neither of which were often available in a home with eight siblings. An initially sunny family portrait slowly darkens after an accidental drowning, an asphyxiation, then suicides and suggestions of incest. Pregnant at 18, Lucile marries the baby’s father and gives birth to Delphine, then has a second child, but the marriage only lasts eight years. Delphine, growing up aware of her mother’s fragility, must cope when Lucile’s mental health finally collapses. Constantly trying to separate truth from fable and family myth, the author treads carefully, conscious of sensitivities and her own uncertainties, while tracing events to their tragically preordained conclusion.
Sympathy and sadness infuse this compelling investigation in which the author herself plays a difficult role.