Hopefulness in Homelessness

No and Me

‘Miss Bertignac, I don’t see your name on the list of presentations.’

Christmas is a time for love, forgiveness and giving. It is a time for putting aside any selfishness and a time for thinking of others as well as thinking of those less fortunate than ourselves. Delphine de Vigan’s novel No and Me is a perfect book to mirror the sentiment of the season as it focuses on the developing relationship between a teenage girl and a young homeless woman.

When a school project brings 13 year-old Lou and No, a teenage girl living on the Parisian streets, together they come to realise that they can get more from each other than just information. As their unlikely friendship grows, their lives become intertwined and the feeling of longing starts to turn into belonging.

A subtle and tender tale, No and Me explores how circumstance determines who we are and how we behave. Through Lou, a highly intelligent but naïve girl, we see No as a person rather than a faceless statistic of the streets. In Lou de Vigan expertly depicts the indestructible confidence that young teens have. Lou has the beautiful confidence that she can change No’s world, that kindness truly is the cure and that happiness, once lost, can eventually be found.

For a translated text (No and Me was originally published in French), it reads incredibly well. The narrative voice is perfectly pitched and there aren’t any of the awkward phrasings that usually occur in translated texts. It’s a straightforward voice and whilst it could easily have been more graphic or more emotive in places, it doesn’t need or try to be and that space allows the audience to connect and cheer for the characters wholeheartedly.

Quiet and understated, No and Me may not a fast-paced drama but is still a powerful and an affective read. There are no simple solutions or tied-up loose ends and de Vigan embraces that in her finale. It’s raw and imperfect and wonderfully fitting to the story of these two characters.

4 star

The amazing UK charity Crisis is a charity my family like to support, particularly around Christmas time. They campaign to end homelessness in the UK and over the Christmas period they host Christmas dinner for those in need. If can spare the money and you would like to help someone over the Christmas period, please do donate to Crisis ­– it really does make a difference.


Icelandic Obscurity

Butterflies in November

This is how it appears to me now, as I look back, without perhaps fully adhering to the chronology of events.

When your husband and lover dump you on the same day and you’re driving around with road kill in the boot of your car, life can seem more than a little out of control! Add into the mix two lottery wins and the impromptu guardianship of a friend’s four-year-old deaf son, it can soon drift into the ridiculous. Butterflies in November explores a snapshot of time in one woman’s life when everything gets turned on its head and the need to escape becomes paramount!

This novel gives all the indications that this will be a traditional tale of self-discovery and yet its delivery is much more complex than that. It is an ambiguous, obscure and drifting narrative that veers into the truly bizarre on occasion! The ultimate destination of the tale remains unclear right up until the end, which has the propensity to unnerve as well as surprise a reader. I was never sure what the objective for the protagonist was as she escapes her old life with small boy in tow and the episodic encounters she has along the way don’t ever seem to stick profoundly to her, as one would expect in a journey tale.

For me, everything felt slightly offbeat in this novel, which made it quite difficult to fully grasp what is happening and who is involved! Characters, mostly unnamed, pop up and disappear at a moment’s notice and the fragmented flashbacks segment the chapters in the most unusual places. Some of the more obscure sentence structures may be attributed to the fact that this is a translated text but I think that Ólafsdóttir’s style is naturally disjointed which makes it a difficult read to dip in and out of.

I wanted to love this book in the same way I absolutely adored Swedish title The Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared but I just couldn’t connect with it. It feels like it should be darkly comic but I was struggling to find the humour through the surreal and felt quite detached from the characters and their motives. This book has enjoyed great success internationally as a translated text – it just wasn’t one for me.

2 star