Loyalties by Delphine de Vigan

I previously read Delphine de Vigan’s No and Me at a time when I wasn’t consuming many books, and it struck me how engrossed I was by her use of language which felt different to much of my previous reading material. I don’t say this in the obvious sense that she is a French novelist and her books are translated into English, which I’m sure has some bearing on my feelings, but she has a great gift for writing striking imagery and thought processes, particularly in children and young adults, that has struck a chord in me.

I picked up a copy of her latest novel Loyalties, from Libreria book shop in London where it was laid out on a table spread with intriguing and dark titles. The familiarity of seeing an author I had previously read, and the premise of the tense entanglement of a teacher, mother and two pre-pubescent boys made it an easy decision – two things that Delphine writes extremely well are adults failing minors, and the protective secrets children will keep.

Chapter by chapter, the narrative switches between the four characters but maintains omniscient point of view, which I found preferable to first person. The characters are so damaged that the book doesn’t need the additional unease of unreliable narration. We need to see with clarity, the difficulties of their lives and the book is more effective at this from maintaining its distance.

Both children and adults are deeply troubled. Family dynamics are fractured and broken beyond repair. As the book progresses, so too does the feeling that everyone is on the brink – the brink of falling apart, and of slipping through the cracks.

Credit must be given to George Miller who translates all of Delphine’s novels and is able to pick apart and reassemble her vivid imagery.

One evening the television news had shown a report about an oil slick caused by a tanker accident. We were at the table. I looked at those birds caught in the sticky oil and I immediately thought of us, all of us. Those pictures represented us better than any family photo. They were us. They were our black, oily bodies, deprived of movement, numb and poisoned.

Cécile, Loyalties – Delphine de Vigan, translated by George Miller


The conclusion of the book is open-ended which ultimately felt right – there are too many complex problems with no quick fix, and to have sewn things up neatly would be a disservice to the societal flaws it has painstakingly highlighted. However, one can hope that the point at which the book does end is the start of a new beginning for all.