By Daphne di Vigan
Thirteen-year-old Théo and his friend Mathis secretly drink on an almost daily basis.
Their teacher, Hélène, suspects something is not right with Théo and becomes obsessed with rescuing him, casting aside her professionalism to the point of no return. Cécile, mother of Mathis, discovers something horrifying on her husband’s computer that makes her question whether she has ever truly known him.
Respectable facades are peeled away as the four stories wind tighter and tighter together, pulling into a lean and darkly gripping novel of loneliness, lies and loyalties.
As soon as I saw this Delphine de Vigan book on Netgalley I knew I wanted to read it. Earlier in the year I read and reviewed her novel Based On A True Story which I really enjoyed. She is a french novelist and her books are translated into English.
This novel has a very different feel to Based On A True Story, which was a psychological thriller. Loyalties is more of a character study, focussing on parent and children realtionships also the relationships children and parents have with teachers; however it is still written in De Vigan’s beautiful lyrical style, her writing really draws you in as a reader and keeps you gripped.
Loyalties has quite a few characters throughout the story. I felt like the main character was Theo a young and troubled 12 year old boy who has taken up drinking alcohol as a way to forget and numb the pain of his broken family life. His parents got divorced a few years ago and neither of his parents speak to each other. He goes to and from his parents week to week and it is really affecting his mental health. As the novel goes on you find out more about his father who is clearly depressed and can see why Theo turns to alcohol not just for fun but to forget things.
He has a close friend at school Mathias, who joins in drinking with Theo, but in Mathias’ case his parents are more concerned, notice his changing behaviour and try to stop him.
Helene is the boys teacher, she had a trouble childhood and can sense something is not quite right with Theo. She tries to intervene but where her loyalties lie as a teacher is she allowed to cross the boundary to help a child struggling?
You also get the perspectives of Mathias’ mother Ceceile, who not only is concerned for her son but has found something in her husband William’s study and is obsessing over it. She goes to therapy so is clearly not mentally stable. She loves her husband but is not sure wether she should tell him what she found whilst snooping. Does she want to break her family apart over this?
For a short novel there are a lot of characters with different opinions and issues, however the way De Vigan writes this short book, I didn’t find it confusing at all. Everything interwove perfectly and I liked that every character had some kind of secret that they didn’t want to share, because of their “loyalties” to their friend, partners, job. I found it interesting how far Theo would go to protect his father, he didn’t want to upset his mother by telling her about him and he didn’t want his father to get worse or get into trouble, he really was stuck between them. This is summed up really well by a line from Hélène: “I know that children protect their parents and that the pact of silence sometimes leads to their deaths.”
Reading this novel I could see how easy it is for children to go downhill fast and slip through the cracks. With parents who loved him but couldn’t put their own issues aside he was ignored. Helene the teacher noticed an issue but schools are so restrictive on how they can help or intervene. This must happen so much with schools and pupils and it is really sad. The whole novel was pretty bleak and melancholy but I thought it brought up some important issues.
This novel is about choices and consequences. Are adults allowed to have issues and problems? Of course they are. But should they let this glaze over their abilities to look out for their children’s welfare? No. Every character in this book at some point should have spoken up and said something about their secrets, their life, their friend, their relationship. But I totally understand why they didn’t.
This novel felt very modern and real, I thought it was a unique story and although the tone was sad throughout I was gripped and will continue to be a Delphine de Vigan fan.
*Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for my advanced copy of this book to read in an exchange for an honest review*