Violaine Huisman’s remarkable debut novel is an exquisitely wrought story about a daughter’s inextinguishable love for her magnetic, mercurial mother. Translated by Leslie Camhi.

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.

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.


The 2022 International Booker Prize
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Violaine Huisman

Violaine Huisman

About the Author

Violaine Huisman was born in Paris in 1979, but has lived and worked in New York for over 20 years.
More about Violaine Huisman
Leslie Camhi

Leslie Camhi

About the Translator

Leslie Camhi is a New York-based essayist, cultural journalist and translator.
More about Leslie Camhi

Violaine Huisman on The Book of Mother

‘As its title evokes, the novel is about a mother, or rather, my real-life mother. As her child, I struggled to make sense of her mental illness, her violence, and her feral love, too. As a writer, I wanted to recompose the complex and fluctuating feelings I continued to hold in memory. Through fiction, I wanted to restore my mother’s place in a world where she felt perpetually out of place. I had wanted to write a book about my mother for as long as I could remember, but it was only when I became a mother myself that I was able to, or understood how. 

‘The role of mother in society is meant to provide limitless unconditional love and care to others, even when the conditions for doing so make it impossible – be they for psychological or political reasons. ‘Mothers always fail,’ Jacqueline Rose has wisely pointed out. But their failure should be taken as a given when mothers are held to inadequately high or unattainable standards. 

‘I found in literature a way to explore the complexity of these questions from two angles: as a child, and as a mother myself. I wanted to re-present my mother as I viewed her through our filial bond, and as I could see her now that I’m an adult.’

Read the full interview here.

I enjoyed the swagger and occasional erudition of its larger-than-life characters, and all the contradictions that give the book its vital force in French.

— Leslie Camhi, translator of The Book of Mother

What the judges said

‘Violaine Huisman’s The Book of Mother brings alive the high-drama world of Violaine and her mother, Catherine. This stark, no-holds-barred depiction of a mother-daughter relationship feels incredibly immediate, a beautiful, bold novel translated with a deceptively elegant simplicity by Leslie Camhi.’

What the critics said

Michelle Orange, The New York Time Book Review

‘This is tricky terrain for a writer of personal history, who must rely on the sensational details she seeks to transcend. In her description of maternal horrors and ecstasies, Huisman strikes an airy tone, confiding yet remote and prone to comic understatement […] That the madness of Violaine’s childhood left her ‘deeply marked’ is both hardly in doubt and not the subject of this tender, searching book. Instead, the daughter figures as both a character in her mother’s story and its teller, taking one last survey of the wreckage, as if her own life depends on it.’

Publishers Weekly

‘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.’


‘Camhi’s translation from the French of Huisman’s debut novel conveys Violaine’s steady compulsion to understand and explain interspersed with gorgeous details such as the way Catherine’s cigarette-singed pillowcases resemble a target shot through by bullets. 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.’

Fran Hawthorne, New York Journal of Books

‘[The first two] sections are fascinating in different ways. Part One grabs the reader with its passion, beautifully translated by Leslie Camhi, with only a couple of stumbles. To some degree, this Maman is a cliché, the over-the-top, half-mad, Dostoyevskian protagonist. Happily, author Violaine Huisman fleshes out that cliché with some wonderful quirks … Part Two is more conventionally engrossing […] After these absorbing sections, the brief Part Three is a letdown, a dribble of more examples of Maman’s craziness and unhappiness, puddling into her death. It’s not really necessary. In this debut, Huisman has already given her readers a richly textured portrait of an enthralling woman you might love as a dinner companion—but never as your mother.’