Do you ever read something you love so much that it immediately makes you want to purchase the author's entire back catalogue? That happened to me witDo you ever read something you love so much that it immediately makes you want to purchase the author's entire back catalogue? That happened to me with Delphine de Vigan's Based on a True Story. I so adored it that I was inspired to go on a second-hand book-buying spree, ordering copies of all de Vigan's previous novels (well, all that have been translated into English). I decided to read them in chronological order, meaning No and Me came first despite appealing to me the least.
I saw this in a lot of bookshops back when it came out in 2010, but it never really caught my interest. I assumed it would be one of those sickly-sweet happily-ever-after stories designed to make the reader feel smug about their moral stance on an issue without actually having to do anything about said issue. Furthermore, most reviews treat it as YA – it was published as adult fiction here in the UK (where it was a Richard & Judy book club choice), but it's about teenagers, and I can see how it might be better suited to a younger reader.
The narrator is Lou, a precociously intelligent 13-year-old. She's skipped a couple of grades at school, is terribly shy, and has no friends – if you don't count an unlikely (and, I must say, rather unbelievable) alliance with Lucas, the bad boy heartthrob of her class. At home, her mother, unable to recover from a family tragedy some years earlier, is severely depressed. At the start of the story, Lou is put on the spot by a teacher about an upcoming presentation, and tells him she's met and will be interviewing a homeless girl. That's the catalyst for Lou to befriend an 18-year-old runaway named No (not, as I first assumed, because she has 'no name' – it's an abbreviation of Nolwenn). Lonely Lou gets very attached to her very quickly, leading to great upheaval and more than a little drama.
There are some glossed-over bits and some implausibilities. Lucas's interest in Lou is far-fetched, his parents' near-constant absence is very convenient, and Lou's chronic shyness in other situations makes the ease with which she approaches No seem unlikely. But de Vigan writes around these issues with a tricksy elegance, and Lou's voice is perfectly pitched: startlingly clever in the way only a precocious kid can be; sometimes funny; often more revealing about the narrator herself than the story she's telling. The plot tackles the moral complexities of Lou's altruism, commending her idealism in the face of others' indifference, while refusing to shy away from the fact that she may, in the end, do more harm than good.
I wish I hadn't read the last page, which I hated – I was leaning towards 4 stars until that. Otherwise, this is a likeable, thoughtful story with a charming narrator and a sobering streak of realism.
In a classic haunted-house setup, a young newlywed couple get caught in a snowstorm and have to take refuge in a hulking mansion inhabited by a motleyIn a classic haunted-house setup, a young newlywed couple get caught in a snowstorm and have to take refuge in a hulking mansion inhabited by a motley gang of strangers. It soon emerges the mismatched group – which includes a TV crew, a parapsychologist and some ex-military men – are there to investigate reports of paranormal activity stretching all the way back to the previous century. In fact, the place is so riddled with phantoms that the current owner wants to, quite literally, blow it up. Various ghostly hijinks ensue, and we learn a little of the cursed house's horrible history.
First published in 1978, Devil in the Darkness unfortunately doesn't read as particularly original or surprising in 2017, and the most frightening incident – the only moment that sent an actual chill down my spine – is never revisited or elucidated in any way. Still, the ending provides a grim kind of satisfaction, and since it's a short book, it's worth the time it takes to read it. Best saved for a dark and stormy night. (And on that note, isn't the cover fantastic?)