Violaine Huisman’s meteoric debut revolves around her mother


So there was literally all this gestation time. I realized that becoming a mother gave me a whole different perspective on who my mother was. I began to understand the conflict she had faced, between her femininity and her motherhood. So that was a big turning point for me.

And then, a few days after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my youngest child, with the baby in my lap, I read 10:04, Ben Lerner’s second novel, and I had this revelation, which was that in fiction – whether you write about your own stories or those of others – the facts don’t matter. Facts are only relevant when it comes to history. I then realized that I had to distance myself from the facts in order to shape my mother’s story, to create a coherent narrative. It’s something Ben Lerner writes and talks about very nicely, that fiction is the imaginative power to shape reality, to make sense of the chaotic nature of life.

Because life is meaningless.

Life has no meaning. And the truth is, my mom didn’t know, my dad didn’t know why it was. But fiction has the ability to create logic where there is none, to bring consistency and stability to the story in a way that feels very powerful and personal.

And then when the structure of the novel came to me, its organization into three parts, I knew even before I started to write exactly how it would be laid out. And that’s how I was able to write it.

A poem that the narrator, “Violaine”, wrote as a child and addressed to her mother, plays a central role in the story. I have to ask: did you really write this poem when you were a kid?

The poem is real, I really wrote it, although I can’t remember the exact circumstances in which I wrote it. I don’t think it turned out the way I describe it in the novel.

When discussing the translation, you were the first to tell me, what do we do with the poem? And I thought, it’s a child’s poem, how do you simulate a child’s voice? Well, that was during the first lockdown, I was at home with my daughters all day, my eldest daughter was eight at the time, so very close to the age I was when I wrote the poem, and it was in a bilingual [French and English] school. So I presented it as a school assignment, to translate the poem. I love the way his translation has this incredible innocence, but also the balance and the rhythm. The first thing she told me was that it had to rhyme, because it rhymes in French.

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