‘People couldn’t care less. They get plenty of fables and characters, they’ve got adventures and plot twists coming out their ears. People have had enough of well-constructed intrigue, clever plot hooks, and denouements. . . . they want to be told about life, don’t you see?’
Why we loved it: Whether you agree with Delphine or not, it’s certainly quite a statement. Based on a True Story is a remarkable novel that dismantles the definitive lines between fact and fiction, producing a story that is truly alive, harrowing, and quite simply incredible. Translated from French by George Miller, the book is self-contemplative and autobiographical, but written with all the poetic gestures of great literature. It’s smart, compelling, and as critics have dubbed it, ‘tremendously French’.
There are little references to Stephen King’s Misery throughout the novel – but you have to read the book to figure out why. And it’s worth finding out why.
But we’re not the only ones who have loved Based on a True Story. Famous filmmaker Roman Polanski is due to release his film adaption sometime later in the year, and the original French version D’apres une histoire vraie won the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens.
The story begins with Delphine’s statement that she would like to describe how the mysterious L. came into her life ‘to invade my private sphere and patiently take possession of it.’ Delphine is enchanted by charismatic, elusive L., and so begins her descent into an obsession that straddles the lines of friendship and love, becoming an untold dependency on each other. Quite quickly, her ambition to write vanishes, her family become an afterthought, and every action, every thought, seeks the approval and affection of L.
Before she met L., Delphine had a life that could be considered ‘normal’, more or less, for a successful novelist living in France. She has a husband and two kids, although they’re hardly mentioned throughout the book, because this is a novel about L.
And as L.’s behaviour becomes stranger and stranger, Delphine starts to believe that she is trapped in a psychological prison by the very person who was supposed to help her escape from it.
Sinister things begin to occur, causing Delphine begins to realise the deepness of her own solitude. Anonymous, cruel letters flood her mailbox. She loses the ability to write, missing countless deadlines. Her husband is gone for months on end. She begins to consider herself a failure on many fronts, and doubts that she will ever manage to write another book? Unless it’s the one you’re reading, one that’s based on a true story, that is rich with feeling and courage: the writer’s nakedness.
This is an enchanting story that weaves itself in your mind, slowly at first, until you begin to feel just as trapped by L. as Delphine does. It is cerebral, claustrophobic, and rattling. Although on the surface it’s a novel about psychological obsession and loss, it is ultimately shrouded by a mystery that shudders to the core and reminds us that there is such a thing as a literary page-turner.
Delphine de Vigan is the author of bestselling No and Me, it was awarded the Prix des Libraires in France, in Britain it was a Richard & Judy Selection. Her other novels include Nothings Holds Back the Night, which won the Prix FNAC and the Grand Prix des Lectrices de ELLE. Underground Time was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt in 2009. D’apres une histoire vraie is a French bestseller and has won both the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens. Roman Polanski and Olivier Assayas are adapting it for the screen. Delphine lives in Paris.