Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan is a standalone psychological thriller and a chilling work of fiction—but based on a true story—about a friendship gone terrifyingly toxic and the nature of reality.
A few months after my last novel came out, I stopped writing. For almost three years, I didn’t write a single line. Hackneyed phrases sometimes have to be taken literally: I didn’t write a formal letter, a thank-you note, a holiday postcard or a shopping list. Nothing that required any sort of effort or necessitated any concern about form. Not one line. Not one word. The sight of a pad, notebook or index card made me feel nauseous.
As the novel Based on a True Story begins, we meet a writer named Delphine who is emotionally and physically exhausted from the unexpected success of her latest book. Endless book tours, long signings, and questions about her book that require emotional answers drain Delphine. Yes, it’s a problem many writers would love to have, but in Based on a True Story it’s this exhausted state and the fear of what to write next that makes our protagonist vulnerable to the machinations of a woman known to us only by her first initial, L.
The suspense ramps up as her friendship with L. deepens and the relationship turns completely toxic. As the story unfolds, the book takes us on a journey that seems to blur the lines of fiction and nonfiction. Since the book is called Based on a True Story, the protagonist shares a name with the novel’s author, and the writing seems so personal at times, I found myself checking the book credits repeatedly to see if the publisher labeled the book nonfiction or fiction.
Even Delphine, the protagonist, isn’t sure as she talks to her “friend”:
“But there’s no such thing as truth. Truth doesn’t exist. My last book was just a clumsy, incomplete attempt to get closer to something ungraspable. A way of telling a story through a distorted lens, a prism of pain and regrets and denial. And love. You know all of that anyway. As soon as you elide, or prolong, or tighten up, or fill in the gaps, you’re writing fiction. You’re right, I was looking for the truth. But any writing about the self is a novel. The story is an illusion. It doesn’t exist. No book should be authorized to have that printed on its cover.”
But it’s all part of the fun as the narrative pulls you first into a false sense of confidence in a new friendship, and then into something more sinister.
I was excited to read and review Based on a True Story because of all the buzz surrounding it and all the awards Delphine De Vigan has won since its debut in France. It was billed as the next Gone Girl, but I enjoyed this book much more because I had more sympathy for the protagonist.
Originally written in French and translated into English by George Miller, there were a few points in the translation where I felt the word choice came from a male perspective rather than a woman’s, but in general the translation was good.
If you like psychological thrillers with a fresh perspective, Based on a True Story is a book you should definitely pick up. You may also want to check out her three other award-winning novels that have been translated into English: No and Me, awarded the 2008 Booksellers Prize; Underground Time, shortlisted for the 2009 Prix Goncourt; and Nothing Holds Back the Night, awarded the Prix Du roman Fnac, the Prix Roman France Televisions, and the Prix Renaudot des Lyceens.
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Deborah Lacy’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine, the 2016 Bouchercon Anthology: Blood on the Bayou, and she has a story coming up in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She also runs the Mystery Playground blog.