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A gorgeous, critically acclaimed debut novel about a young woman coming of age with a dazzling yet damaged mother who lived and loved in extremes – in the bestselling tradition of Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle.

A prize-winning tour de force when it came out in France, Violaine Huisman’s remarkable debut novel is about a daughter’s inextinguishable love for her magnetic, mercurial mother. Beautiful and charismatic, Catherine, aka ‘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.

But when Maman is hospitalised after a third divorce and 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 coming of age 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 let go.

Reviews

Violaine Huisman unfurls memories, facts and family myths . . . it's poignant, terribly alive . . . the grit Huisman has in retelling her story, both as a young girl and as a writer, is as beautiful as it is brave . . . dignified and devastating, the book is a superb monument to a woman who spent her whole life in flight
Le Monde
A sparkling debut. Any sadness in the telling is countered by the panache and surprise of the writing infused in these pages. Love wins out in a life of struggle - the struggle of a monarch without a kingdom
Elle (France)
Violaine Huisman summons her late mother's voice in order to speak with and through and for her. The result is a charged portrait of a vibrant and destructive woman as imagined by the daughter who believed it was her job to save her. The prose has the unmistakable urgency and authority of love, producing an homage without idealization, an elegy without false consolation. The Book of Mother is at once an act of radical identification and a way of letting go
Ben Lerner
A magnificent ode. Her prose abounds with literary force
Le Point
Hypnotic and searching
La Vie
Huisman's excellent debut chronicles the life of a charming but volatile Frenchwoman... 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
PW, starred review
The names of Huisman's characters will provoke discussion of the novel as autofiction, but the story here is bigger than that. Love hurts; Huisman elegantly examines how and why
Kirkus, starred review
An indelible portrait of a brilliant, beautiful, mad and maddening woman, expressing the joy of holding her mercurial attention and also the terrible cost of that intimacy. This is an exquisite evocation of the passionate, reciprocal love that can illuminate its objects, or destroy them, or both. No one who reads this captivating book will ever forget Maman.
Andrew Solomon