cover image No One

No One

Gwenaëlle Aubry, trans. from the French by Trista Selous. Tin House (PGW, dist.

In her first novel to be translated into English, Aubry, a philosopher and writer, examines mental illness in a story that unfolds in dictionary form, contrasting rigidity with the chaos of madness. Lou, a 36-year-old writer, sorts through her dead father’s papers, encountering a “map of his melancholia” that presents a picture of a man struggling to contain a dark, disturbing shadow self. Once a successful law professor and the author of “a brilliant thesis,” François-Xavier Aubry was, beneath a mask of normality, “no one.” Even before his death, he was unknown and unknowable to his child. Now, faced with his writing, Lou must “plug the gap between the ordinary world” and the secret world of her father’s mental landscape. What she discovers is a certain form of truth. However, “in his own oscillations from angel to beast, joy to pain—each of them excessive—his inner multitude and his always escaped self,” there lies a larger truth as well, a piercing insight about the private world contained within each of us. By the end, though the alphabet has been exhausted, Aubry’s lucid prose has ascended to the heights of poetry. Winner of France’s Prix Femina prize. (Feb.)