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Summary and book reviews of The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman

The Book of Mother

A Novel

by Violaine Huisman

The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman X
The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman
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  • Published:
    Oct 2021, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gorgeous, critically acclaimed debut novel about a young woman coming of age with a dazzling yet damaged mother who lived and loved in extremes.

A prizewinning tour de force when it was published in France, Violaine Huisman's remarkable debut novel is about a daughter's inextinguishable love for her magnetic, mercurial mother. Beautiful and charismatic, Catherine, a.k.a. "Maman," smokes too much, drives too fast, laughs too hard, and loves too extravagantly. During a joyful and chaotic childhood in Paris, her daughter Violaine wouldn't have it any other way.

But when Maman is hospitalized after a third divorce and a breakdown, everything changes. Even as Violaine and her sister long for their mother's return, once she's back Maman's violent mood swings and flagrant disregard for personal boundaries soon turn their home into an emotional landmine. As the story of Catherine's own traumatic childhood and adolescence unfolds, the pieces come together to form an indelible portrait of a mother as irresistible as she is impossible, as triumphant as she is transgressive.

With spectacular ferocity of language, a streak of dark humor, and stunning emotional bravery, The Book of Mother is an exquisitely wrought story of a mother's dizzying heights and devastating lows, and a daughter who must hold her memory close in order to let go.

Excerpt
The Book of Mother

On the day the Berlin wall came down, I was ten; television screens all over the world glowed with images of people cheering and chanting, swarms of men and women dancing and crying and raising victory signs in front of crumbling stones and debris and clouds of dust; in France, we attended this historic event via the evening news, with fadeouts to the somber face of the anchorman, whom we'd invited to sit down to dinner with us—at least those among us who were sitting down to dinner, who still followed that family ritual and for whom the eight o'clock news had replaced the saying of grace as a sort of prayer for the Republic. I could tell, by the way the pitch of the anchorman's voice fell, that something serious was going on, yet despite his explanations, the geopolitical significance of all this chaos was entirely lost on me. I had no idea of the issues at stake. Still, I was transfixed by the footage, riveted to our television set, in which I ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Huisman's prose is very strong, her poetic flair remaining intact thanks to Leslie Camhi's skillful translation from the original French. At once a purge of years' worth of pain and a celebration of a life lived at the extremes, her blend of fact and fiction feels like the ideal narrative style to immortalize a woman whose bittersweet story consistently blurred the lines between sorrow and joy, heartache and passion, savagery and love...continued

Full Review (489 words).

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

New York Times
In her description of maternal horrors and ecstasies, Huisman strikes an airy tone, confiding yet remote and prone to comic understatement...That the madness of Violaine's childhood left her 'deeply marked' is both hardly in doubt and not the subject of this tender, searching book. Instead, the daughter figures as both a character in her mother's story and its teller, taking one last survey of the wreckage, as if her own life depends on it.

Oprah Daily
A prize-winning sensation in France, Huisman's witty, immersive autofiction showcases a Parisian childhood with a charismatic, depressed parent.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[E]xcellent...Huisman's storytelling ability is immense: Violaine unfurls the wide-ranging narrative like a raconteur at a party, and develops a kaleidoscopic portrait of Catherine. This thoughtful exploration of familial trauma and love will have readers riveted.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Camhi's translation...conveys Violaine's steady compulsion to understand and explain interspersed with gorgeous details such as the way Catherine's cigarette-singed pillowcases resemble a target shot through by bullets. The names of Huisman's characters will provoke discussion of the novel as autofiction, but the story here is bigger than that. Love hurts; Huisman elegantly examines how and why.

Library Journal (starred review)
In this touching tribute to her eccentric mother's life and death, which also offers a wild view of swinging Paris during the 1960s and 1970s, Huisman is sardonic, furious, and sometimes humorous but always affectionate toward her mother. Her prose seems urgent, pulling the reader along, as if she's trying to outrun her grief. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far From the Tree
In The Book of Mother, Violaine Huisman has painted an indelible portrait of a brilliant, beautiful, mad and maddening woman, expressing the joy of holding her mercurial attention and also the terrible cost of that intimacy. The long, graceful, neo-Proustian sentences break like waves, each one conveying both the depth of the narrator's attachment to Maman and the peril of relying on someone who was at once overwhelmingly powerful and devastatingly fragile. Reading about Maman's decay is like watching a citadel crumble under siege. This is an exquisite evocation of the passionate, reciprocal love that can illuminate its objects, or destroy them, or both. No one who reads this captivating book will ever forget Maman.

Author Blurb Caroline Weber, author of Proust's Duchess and Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
In lucid, unflinching—and here beautifully translated—prose, this stunning debut novel mines the singular flaws and graces of the mother-daughter connection. An ode to its titular parent, an 'impossible' yet 'irreplaceable' woman in full, The Book of Mother is also an unforgettable meditation on the searing pain of loss and the enduring power of love.

Author Blurb Ben Lerner, author of The Topeka School
Violaine Huisman summons her late mother's voice in order to speak with and through and for her. The result is a charged portrait of a vibrant and destructive woman as imagined by the daughter who believed it was her job to save her. The prose has the unmistakable urgency and authority of love, producing an homage without idealization, an elegy without false consolation. The Book of Mother is at once an act of radical identification and a way of letting go.

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Beyond the Book

What Is Autofiction?

Covers of My Struggle, Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAs a concept, autofiction can seem like an oxymoron. Short for autobiographical fiction, the term was coined in the 1970s by French writer Serge Dubrovsky, and it quickly became something of a buzzword in the publishing world. This blend of two seemingly disparate forms is best described as a fictionalized account of real-life events, heavily influenced by the author's own experiences.

While most of us are familiar with the notion of "writing about what you know," it may seem strange to some readers that an author would choose to frame their own life story as fiction, rather than simply pen a more recognizable memoir. Some have suggested that autofiction exists on a spectrum, from the heavily fictionalized to almost entirely true. This ...

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