Longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize
A New York Times Notable Book
A Library Journal Best Book of 2021
A “marvelous…superbly effective” (The New Yorker) debut novel about a young woman coming of age with a dazzling yet damaged mother who lived and loved in extremes.
Met by rave reviews in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and more, this stunning translation of Violaine Huisman’s “witty, immersive autofiction showcases a Parisian childhood with a charismatic, depressed parent” (Oprah Daily). Beautiful and magnetic, Catherine, a.k.a. “Maman,” smokes too much, drives too fast, laughs too hard, and loves too extravagantly, and her daughter Violaine wouldn’t have it any other way.
But when Maman is hospitalized after a third divorce and a breakdown, everything changes. Even as Violaine and her sister long for their mother’s return, once she’s back Maman’s violent mood swings and flagrant disregard for personal boundaries soon turn their home into an emotional landmine. As the story of Catherine’s own traumatic childhood and adolescence unfolds, the pieces come together to form an indelible portrait of a mother as irresistible as she is impossible, as triumphant as she is transgressive.
With spectacular ferocity of language, a streak of dark humor, and stunning emotional bravery, The Book of Mother is an exquisitely wrought story of a mother’s dizzying heights and devastating lows, and a daughter who must hold her memory close in order to surrender, and finally move on.
Huisman's excellent debut chronicles the life of a charming but volatile Frenchwoman. Catherine, a manic-depressive dancer and mother of two, is as prone to fits of rage and mood swings as she is to expressing her love for her daughters. Violaine, her youngest, recounts events that took place when she was 10, in 1989. Catherine's third marriage has failed, and she intentionally drives her car with Violaine and Violaine's older sister, Elsa, into oncoming traffic on the Champs- lys es. They all survive, and the girls' father, Antoine, Catherine's second husband, arranges with their grandmother, Jacqueline, to have her committed. Violaine then charts Catherine's bitter relationship with Jacqueline, and Jacqueline's own painful history, having been forced by her parents to marry her rapist, Catherine's father, whom she manages to later leave. Though Catherine has a short leg, she trains at eight to dance just like her mother, and the pair later open rival dance schools. Later, Catherine ends her stable first marriage for the wealthy Antoine. The novel's final section follows Violaine and Elsa, now adults, as they try to carry out Catherine's wishes after her suicide in her Paris apartment. Huisman's storytelling ability is immense: Violaine unfurls the wide-ranging narrative like a raconteur at a party, and develops a kaleidoscopic portrait of Catherine. This thoughtful exploration of familial trauma and love will have readers riveted.