A novel about a daughter's inextinguishable love for her magnetic, mercurial mother. Beautiful and charismatic, Catherine, a.k.a. "Maman," smokes too much, drives too fast, laughs too hard, and loves too extravagantly. During a joyful and chaotic childhood in Paris, her daughter Violaine wouldn't have it any other way.
This is tricky terrain for a writer of personal history, who must rely on the sensational details she seeks to transcend. In her description of maternal horrors and ecstasies, Huisman strikes an airy tone, confiding yet remote and prone to comic understatement ... That the madness of Violaine’s childhood left her 'deeply marked' is both hardly in doubt and not the subject of this tender, searching book. Instead, the daughter figures as both a character in her mother’s story and its teller, taking one last survey of the wreckage, as if her own life depends on it.
... marvellous and unsettling ... The book’s genre shuttles, siren-like, between horror and transcendent romance ... The tumult of Huisman’s childhood is mirrored by the chaotic experience of reading her book ... The messaging here isn’t subtle, yet it’s superbly effective. The book both depicts and performs a relationship of monstrous love and zero-sum logic ... One develops a soft spot for many of Huisman’s characters, despite their hideous and sometimes criminal behavior. Their larger-than-life swagger is the first lure. Their human frailty is the second. And yet there is, there must be, a degree of daylight between cherishing someone and feeling a need to save them ... a labor of love, which considers primal conflict with a tender psychological acuity. It’s as if Huisman has fought with her mother, surrendered to her, and finally moved on.
[The first two] sections are fascinating in different ways. Part One grabs the reader with its passion, beautifully translated by Leslie Camhi, with only a couple of stumbles. To some degree, this Maman is a cliché, the over-the-top, half-mad, Dostoyevskian protagonist. Happily, author Violaine Huisman fleshes out that cliché with some wonderful quirks ... Part Two is more conventionally engrossing ... After these absorbing sections, the brief Part Three is a letdown, a dribble of more examples of Maman’s craziness and unhappiness, puddling into her death. It’s not really necessary. In this debut, Huisman has already given her readers a richly textured portrait of an enthralling woman you might love as a dinner companion—but never as your mother.