An ordinary girl

Constance Rivière

(Stock, 192 pages, 2019)

*** TRanslation sample ***

Young and depressed, Adèle carries out her life through daydreams, constantly confusing the stories her father told her as a child with the realities of the world. Sleeping during the day and staying cooped up at night, she constantly looks out the window, staring at other people leading seemingly full lives. On the night of November 13, 2015, she is ripped out of her reverie by screams and police sirens. Adèle watches on the news as terrorists shoot innocent concertgoers at the Bataclan Theatre. When she recognizes one of the victims on the news — Matteo — Adèle finds a new reason to live.

She met Matteo during the brief period she worked in a bar. She became infatuated with him, and pocketed the little napkin drawings he left behind. She lost her job when she tried stealing something from his jacket. After the attack she gets no news of him until she sees his mother holding a picture of him on TV and realizes Matteo is missing. She urgently needs to know what happened to him. The next day she visits the crisis center set up for the victims. To be able to enter, she tells the only lie that crosses her mind: She and Matteo were dating. As she sees everyone around her falling apart, including Matteo’s parents who arrive soon after, her lie gives her purpose. She accompanies the parents when the police announce their son was killed, offers them shelter in her apartment, and helps them set up the funeral. She makes herself indispensable, going so far as to take on Matteo’s parents’ grief.

Adèle quickly becomes a spokesperson for the victims. She helps coordinate homage events, gives interviews to the press, and meets with government representatives charged with managing relations with the victims and their families. Her apparent grief gives her energy and recognition, to the point where she starts to believe her own lies.

Her masquerade lasts for months, until Matteo’s mother, Francesca, realizes what Adèle has been doing. Francesca confides in various people about the inconsistencies in Adèle’s story. At last, surrounded with doubts and devastated by the emerging truth, Francesca reports Adèle to the police.

In An Ordinary Girl, Constance Rivière confronts the disgust one feels when encountering instances of victim imposters. She questions the media’s role in today’s society, and how its hold on our attention might lead to Adèle’s type of behavior. Rivière alternates between Adèle’s consciousness and the viewpoint of other key characters, imitating the process of a deposition in her writing. Adèle’s arrest brings each character to the same conclusion: We would never have doubted her word, because how could one even conceive of such an egregious lie?

Constance Rivière was employed by the government and was in the Stade de France alongside the President when the Paris attacks happened. She participated in organizing the crisis centers and worked among the victims and their families for months. Three years later, when she heard on the radio about a woman who lied about being a victim of the attacks, she decided to write about it. An Ordinary Girl is her first novel.