Wednesday, 3 October 2012

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

I was very impressed with this novel. It features three teenagers living difficult lives. The Me of the title is Lou, a lonely thirteen year-old with an IQ of 160 and obsessive tendencies. A misfit in a class of students two years her senior, her home life is equally hard. Her mother is profoundly depressed. Her father cries in the bathroom. Lou immerses herself in mental conundrums and scientific experiments. Then she meets No, who lives on the streets. Despite a five year age gap, they become friends. No is prickly and a drinker. Lou gets another friend too, Lucas, at seventeen the coolest, best-looking boy in school, a boy who never does any work and whose parents have left to his own devices. Rough sleeping is taking a terrible physical and mental toll on No. Lou asks her parents if she can come to live with the family, and to her amazement they agree. For a time all goes better than Lou could have dreamt. Her mother engages in conversation for the first time in years. She ventures outside. Lou’s father starts making plans for the future. No gets a job. She and Lou are inseparable. But No starts drinking again in earnest, and stealing Lou’s mother’s drugs. Everything unravels. Lou and Lucas struggle to help her as her behaviour gets increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.

No and Me is humorous and moving, the characters sympathetically drawn and believable. Through them we get an insight into what it might be like to have an intellect far ahead of your peers, what it might be like to be a homeless teenager, what it might be like to be abandoned by your parents. Published in France for adults, in the UK Bloomsbury have brought No and Me out in an adult and a teenage edition, in an excellent translation by George Miller. Recommended.