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January Book Club Discussion: No & Me by Delphine de Vigan

I hope you’ve had a chance to look at NO & ME but, in case you haven’t, listen to a few people who have and then you can decide…

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This is a novel narrated by a precociously clever French Girl, Lou Bertignac, ‘blessed’ (or perhaps not) with an egregiously high IQ and  burgeoning conscience. Lou has to do a special project for school and without really thinking she decides that it will be on the homeless, and more particularly on a young girl she has just met at the Gare Austerlitz.  This is No.  She is eighteen and sleeping rough. This is the beginning of an intense friendship which will change both of their lives and the lives of Lou’s family, and it will introduce Lou to some of the delights and harsh realities of the adult world.

I fell for the voice of 13 year old Lou, “top of the class but silent and a loner” –  her mixture of self-knowledge and naivete.  I loved her passionate anger against injustice and her determination to act.  I like the way her sadness and yearning for warmth and emotion takes her again and again to one of the main stations in Paris where she loves to watch the people arriving and leaving, meeting and separating – and see their feelings of sadness and joy.  she also likes to collect things that are lost or broken or abandoned and that is of course where No comes in.

No is revealed through Lou’s eyes, with tenderness, hope and sometimes a twinge of jealousy but never pity.  She doesn’t like talking much, distrusts adults and fears the night – she is a fragile and vulnerable creature and, as the author says, her name reflects her nature – she is an absence almost, a negation.  Her relationship with Lou is strong and tenuous at the same time.  It is a really tricky one to make real and for me it somehow really works – all disbelief was suspended. I SO wanted things to come right, for the dream of having a family to happen and then for her boyfriend to there for her…despite all the odds

And I also loved the portrait of Lou’s family which has lost its way because of a great sadness that has befallen them.  Again you experience this as Lou does – the silence and solitariness – they are frozen in their grief and don’t know how to escape it, until No arrives.  She gives them the chance to do something, to help.

I won’t say more, but here are some ideas/questions that you might want to think about:

  • Lou says “All my life I’ve felt on the outside wherever I am…at one remove…as if I’m on the other side of a huge invisible window.”  Why do you think this window dissolves when she meets No?
  • Delphine de Vigan said that she didn’t intend Lou to be the main character but Lou dictated otherwise (and, curiously, when I first read the book it was Lou’s story that dominated but when I just reread it, it was No who took more of my attention).  Why do you think de Vigan allowed Lou to stay in the foreground?  by using a 13 year old narrator how does this change the way the reader perceives things?
  • Another quote form the book, this time form The Little Prince: when the fox asks the Little Prince to tame him, the prince is hesitant and confused so the fox explains: “if you tame me, we shall need one another.”  Does this happen with No and Lou? Is it an equal relationship?
  • Families…Lou’s family I broken, Lucas is left to his own devices and No is abandoned.  What does the book make you feel about the nature of families and the responsibilities of parents?  when No is introduced to Lou’s family, something begins to mend but is it possible for No to understand what a family really means?  (NO & ME was published as an adult book as well as YA in the UK – how differently will adults read it?  are they/we more cynical/critical?
  • How happy is the ending?  Lou started off as a ‘utopian’ – how has she been changed by her experiences?  do you think she is still utopian at the end of the book?
  • NO & ME is set in Paris.  To me it certainly feels French.  Does this affect the way you feel and understand the lives of the characters and does the distance make it more vivid or more distant ?
  • Does this book make you look differently at the homeless – does it make you LOOK?

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012If you want to hear Delphine de Vigan talk about NO & ME, you can watch an interview with her here.

Did you read NO & ME with us this month? Let us know what you thought in a comment or on Twitter @HotKeyBooks!

In February we’ll be reading FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell! You can follow along on GoodReads and keep an eye out for a more detailed blog post about why we picked this book next week.