Autobiographical heroine makes French novel a hit

The heroine of Justine L?vy’s new novel “Nothing Serious” is no accidental goddess or shopoholic diva – she’s an “ex-woman” addicted to cigarettes, amphetamines and numbness.

We are introduced to Louise in the first person – choppy, stream of consciousness prose, which reads like a diary but is sprinkled with wit and brutal honesty. In the first few chapters, we follow Louise as she jumps around haphazardly in time, recounting the death of her grandmother, her mother’s battle with cancer and her rocky relationship with her famous father.

Louise’s biggest hurdle, however, is rethinking her glamorized view of love after the failure of her young, idealistic marriage and the betrayal of her husband, Adrien.

Woven into the other dramas in her life is the strange story of how Adrien left her for his own father’s girlfriend. Her struggle to please him, and to please her father, leads to her addiction to amphetamines, her three-month stint in rehab and a permanent injection of paranoia and guilt into her life.

Louise reacts to her demons with apathy, and her meandering path back to something resembling normalcy – purging memories, failed psychoanalysis, caring for her mother, meeting a Spaniard named Pablo – makes for a touching and often dark novel.

L?vy’s frenzied style is easy to mistake for laziness at first. The plot is jumbled, the timeline nonexistent and the freestyle prose seems contrived at first glance. Who really talks in frantic, highly contradictory run-on sentences? As a distinct protagonist emerges from the chaos, however, the style lends insight into her damaged soul and the intricacy of the novel is revealed.

“Nothing Serious” is anything but thrown together. The poignant realism of the story speaks for itself.

While the novel is “chick lit” in the sense that it deals with life through the eyes of a young woman and explores her troubled relationships, it artfully avoids the clich?. The end delivers no triumphant exclamation of self and victory; it closes humbly, realistically, with just a touch of hope.

The novel, originally published in French, came out in France last year to popular and critical praise. Part of its appeal is its largely autobiographical nature (although L?vy is quick to point out that the story simply resembles her own) and L?vy’s fame in her native France; she is the daughter of the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri L?vy and moves in Parisian celebrity circles. Her life, in particular her husband’s desertion of her for his father’s girlfriend (model-turned-singer Carla Bruni), is French gossip column fodder.

But L?vy is just as unglamorous as her heroine. As the picture on the back flap reveals, the young author is not your typical supervixen chick-lit writer. She has messy hair and a pale face, and she has the same, slightly paranoid look in her eyes as one would imagine in Louise’s. She looks normal and decidedly unpretentious, yet with a bold aura.

This sums up “Nothing Serious” nicely – without grandiose statements about love or life, it is an intimate look into the heroine’s struggles with idealism and reality.