|Image Credit: WHSmith|
And I think if I were to speak to Lou Bertignac, she will nod her precocious 13-year old head and agree with me. For you see, Lou kind of doesn't understand either. She can't understand a world that has place for the homeless. She cannot understand the apathy and the apparent ease with which we tend to think of 'us' and 'them.' Yes, strains of Pink Floyd in this review! And Lou is sadly afflicted with an IQ of 160 or so, which makes her gifted in the eyes of society, but this gift is just an impediment for normal relationships for her. Lou then befriends No, an 18-year old who lives on the streets in Paris, haunting the metro stations and foraging for everyday existence. They form a strong, if unusual bond. It's not an easy relationship. (Which relationship is ever easy, I wonder!). It's here that Delphine de Vigan excels. She creates such a sustained atmosphere in No And Me that you can almost breathe in it. Lou as your narrator is not a typical 13-year old. Not when she talks like this to you, the reader:
"All my life I've felt on the outside wherever I am, out of the picture, the conversation, at one remove, as though I was the only one able to hear the sounds or words that others can't and deaf to the words that they seem to hear. As if I'm outside the frame, on the other side of a huge, invisible window."
And I found myself nodding, ah yes Lou, I so know what you mean. Lou and No's friendship/sisterhood is fragile at best. You know it. You feel it. Lou tries to help No. In her way. She takes No home. It is a courageous step, and she thinks she can fight it. Fight this world step by step. No's scars of living on the streets are all evident. And Lou has her own burdens to bear. Vigan plots intricate family relationships with astuteness. Lou's longing for family - her naked need to be hugged, loved and comforted, and No's troubles with her own mother are beautiful etched.
There is much to be admired in this little book. It reads fast, but packs a lot in. At times, the social commentary that Vigan feels obliged to add appears to slant a bit towards artifice. I just ignored it. Despite marketed also as a Young Adult novel, I feel it will appeal more to so-called real adults (Hah, such a contemptuously ignorant term of reality if there ever was). There is an echoing undercurrent of sadness that runs through the book, but there is inspiration in abundance too. It's a coming of age tale that packs in wisdom and of that we always need more. No need to diet on wisdom, is there? And Lou is wise.
Before I met No I thought that violence meant shouting and hitting and war and blood. Now I know that there can also be violence in silence and that it's sometimes invisible to the naked eye. There's violence in the time that conceals wounds, the relentless succession of days, the impossibility of turning back the clock. Violence is what escapes us. It's silent and hidden. Violence is what remains in explicable, what stays forever opaque.
And this beautiful chapter ends with this:
And I think there's violence in that too - in her inability to reach out to me, to make the gesture which is impossible and so forever suspended.
Read this book a while. And enjoy it a lot longer.
Verdict : A little gem that strains at the edges at times, but is always believable and touching in its portrayal of relationships and wounds they inflict.