“Don’t give up on idealism”

This is my review of No et moi (Littérature française) (French Edition) by Delphine (de) Vigan.

An abnormally high IQ has landed thirteen-year-old Lou in a class two years ahead of her age where, physically small by any standard, she is an introverted loner, with the added burden of being an only child whose mother has been traumatised by a recent family tragedy. Terrified by the prospect of having to give a presentation, Lou blurts out her proposed theme of “the homeless” based on a real interview. She has in mind No, a down-and-out eighteen-year-old who haunts the Austerlitz railway station in Paris, where she has aroused Lou’s interest and stimulated her overactive imagination.

It is apparent from the outset that the strong rapport and friendship which develops between the two is unlikely to lead to a happy ending in the real world. This well-developed story is saved from mawkishness by the humorous aspects of Lou’s eccentric hobbies and her tendency to take people too literally at times, together with what she learns about life from her dealings with No. Lou’s sense of outrage over the plight of the homeless makes one regret one’s own adult loss of idealism. Her anguish that reality is not like one’s utopian dreams is replaced by acceptance, even whilst observing the madness of the “normal”, “sane” world.

This story works well as a novel for both teenagers and adult readers, particularly those wishing to put their French to use in a very readable text. There are a few false notes, such as initial suggestions that Lou might be autistic, whereas she struck me as far too neat and conformist in class, well-organised and empathetic for this to be the case. Her crush on the handsome but rebellious seventeen-year-old Lucas, who has been held back for two years in the same class, is convincing but their relationship seems a little corny at times. It is of course necessary to the plot for Lucas to have neglectful parents who have left him home alone in a flat where the three main characters can hang out free from adult interference.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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