Delphine de Vigan’s last book Nothing holds back the night has been a huge success. This was a highly personal tale of her mother and although the success is good, it does have its price. Not all family members are happy with the way their personal history ended up in the book, and there is the whole circus of booksignings and lectures.
Delphine finds that she becomes more and more tired and cannot cope with all of it very well.
Then she meets L. at a party and the two women immediately like eachother. They become friends and every day there is some form of contact, a textmessage, a phonecall or they go out for a drink.
Delphine wants to get started on a new book, and wants to do research and note down ideas. Only she finds she cannot do it, no idea feels right and somehow she lacks the concentration. She talks about this with L. who tells her she should not hide behind fiction anymore, because people want to know what they read is real.
For Delphine the situation gets worse, she cannot write at all, and even jotting down a grocery list becomes too much. Lucky for her, L is there to help. She answers emails, does the paperwork and even helps her with writing-assignments. When L needs a place to stay for a couple of nights, it is logical she will stay at Delphine’s house.
For a few weeks, this works perfectly, but then Delphine begins to notice things. L is writing with a different hand than she did before, she buys the same jeans Delphine has and wears the same kind of shoes. And why is she telling Delphine what kind of writer she ought to be?
L moves out again and there is not much contact between the two, until Delphine gets an accident and needs L help to move around. At the same time she finds the inspiration for her new book, she wants to write about L’s life.
But is this something L wants, or does she want to control the situation as she has controlled Delphine?
Delphine tries to analyse how the relationship between her and L developed and where it went wrong. She looks back and analyses how things got out of hand.
She can point at the reasons why L became such a good friend so fast. Delphine was vulnerable at that time, struggling with the success of her book and the fact that her children left home to go to university. Delphine also admired L and saw her as more sophisticated than herself. (in most friendships you admire your friend for things she is better at than you yourself are)
It is only later that Delphine questions certain situations she took for granted when they happened and asks herself if perhaps some situations were staged by L.
Based on a true story is a book that will get your attention from page one and will not let go. I read it in one go over a weekend, I just could not put it down.
Delphine de Vigan is a master at writing about difficult situations, sometimes in such a way you can hardly read on, since it becomes so uncomfortable. She gets so close, you as the reader have no place left to hide.
All of us recognize a friendship that has gone wrong, the friend who was not a good friend at all. Or perhaps you knew that all along, only you never dared to confess that to yourself.
Based on a true story is however more than a story about an obsession gone wrong. She also adds a few twists and leaves you asking what is true and what is fiction, what is reality and what is fantasy?
Each writer can make up a story and present it as real, but even an autobiography has elements that are made up. In literature this kind of deception is nothing new.
When you have finished the book, you are left with the question if Delphine was indeed an innocent victim of an obsessed woman, or that perhaps the situation is a bit different.
For me, Delphine de Vigan is one of the best French authors today and this book proves that. I can only say that I am looking forward to her next book.
The book won in France the Prix Renaudot.
Original French title: D’après une histoire vraie
Published in 2015
An English translation will be available from April 6th 2017