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the Complete Review

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Amélie Nothomb
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Amélie NOTHOMB
Nationality: Belgian
Born: 13 August 1967

  • Born in Kobe, Japan
  • Nothomb's father has been the Belgian Ambassador to numerous countries, including China and the United States.
  • Won the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie, 1999 (for Stupeur et tremblements).

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Amélie Nothomb:

  • "Amélie Nothomb est une peste. La preuve: malgré trente printemps et quatre livres derrière elle, la romancière belge affiche encore volontiers cette paire de couettes et cet inimitable sourire de défi qu'ont les sales gosses suffisamment douées pour se permettre de chahuter au fond de la classe." - Olivier Le Naire, L'Express (19/9/1996)

  • "Prenez Amélie Nothomb. Pourquoi faut-il qu'on n'en perçoive plus qu'une image d'une récurrente insupportabilité? Parce qu'Amélie fait ses livres comme elle fait sa promo." - Pierre Marcelle, La Libération (17/9/1998)

  • "L'inaltérable succès d'Amélie Nothomb prouve qu'elle a eu raison de naître Dieu et de s'inventer écrivain. Comme les carpes insatiables du jardin japonais, nous avalons ses mensonges avec délice." - Hugo Marsan, Le Monde (1/9/2000)

  • "Dans une époque mièvre où personne ne veut courir le risque de froisser son prochain, cette Belge cruelle de vingt-huit ans sort du lot. L'euphémisme lui est aussi étranger que la sensiblerie." - Didier Sénécal, Lire (9/1995)

  • "Her well-mannered prose, her clear and accomplished style, her aristocratic culture of a bygone day (Nothomb is the daughter of a Belgian diplomat) -- perhaps this is why she has touched such a large audience in France, nostalgic for a time when French literature was preeminent among the arts and in the world." - Patrick Erouart-Siad, Boston Review (2-3/2003)

  • "Nothomb's novels are preoccupied with manipulative and destructive dynamics, especially between women (...) Told from the point of view of the weaker party, her stories move between the clinical analysis of cruelty and a none too subtle plea for pity from the reader. Nothomb's writing demands that the reader sympathize with the narrator, whatever she does. Nothomb's preference for an elusive first-person narrator picks up stylistically where Marguerite Duras left off, and her prose relies on the same qualities of defiant vulnerability, allusiveness and ellipsis." - Ingrid Wassenaar, Times Literary Supplement (26/3/2004)

  • "Amélie Nothomb is such an utter astonishment, the shock of reading her for the first time is like realising you have inadvertently missed a whole movement, or a century, in the scheme of things. Comparisons founder. We might invoke the heroines of Zazie in the Metro and Trop Belle Pour Toi, then proceed to Freud, Angela Carter and Svankmajerís Alice in Wonderland, putting them all together with a Prokofiev score, yet still not coming close. Only one question remains: after 13 novels, multiple prizes, bestseller status and translations into 30 languages, what on earth has British publishing been doing all this time, instead of bringing her to our attention ?" - Samatha Boyce, Scotland on Sunday (9/5/2004)

  • "Nothomb can be a devastating satirist." - Jasper Rees, Daily Telegraph (15/5/2004)

  • "She has 12 novels in print around the world, so it is astonishing that British publishers haven't discovered Nothomb's perverse, wacky wit and fertile imagination before now. Faber will be publishing two more novellas in August: Fear and Trembling, an extraordinary tale of a young western woman being ritually humiliated by her bosses in a large corporation in Japan; and The Character of Rain, which enters the mind of a three-year-old. But for me it is her astute understanding of growing up and the damage done by mothers who see their daughters merely as extensions of themselves that has left its mark." - Kate Figes, The Guardian (29/5/2004)

  • "(H)er books are fresh, surprising and savagely playful, with a strong charge. (...) Despite these established successes, she still replicates the effect of a bucket of cold water thrown at you on a hot day. (...) (W)e should welcome her books in whatever form they arrive; such elegance and fierceness are rare." - Lucy Dallas, Times Literary Supplement (20/8/2004)

  • "When Amélie Nothomb publishes a book (which she does every year), her adoring fans are sure to make it a French bestseller. Her fictions/autobiographies are made in her own image: coquettish and solipsistic, they are bite-sized but hard to swallow." - Caroline McGinn, New Statesman (10/7/2006)

  • "I admire the childish narrators of Amélie Nothomb's novels, who tell outrageous stories, a blur of fiction and memoir, with a straight face. These artful tales succeed not just as entrancingly bleak comedy but as experiments in ways of making up first-person narratives. Nothomb's originality lies in her invention of a childish voice that is by turns surreal, egotistical and profoundly intellectual. She gives her little girls the seriousness, self-absorption and self-importance of grown-ups" - Michèle Roberts, The Guardian (12/8/2006)

  • "Slim books easily digested at one sitting, Nothomb's novels are characterised by that most French of combinations: playfulness and intellect. Reading the Paris-based author's work feels like being entertained by a precocious child who is amusing and irksome in equal measure. In her fairy tale-like narratives, the wise child/teenager/woman at the centre is, you suspect, the godlike author in another guise." - Marianne Brace, The Independent (28/8/2007)

  • ""The worst accidents in life are accidents of language." While anyone who has just been run over by a bus might beg to differ, Amélie Nothomb illustrates this authorial sentiment with a deft, droll touch." - Lionel Shriver, Financial Times (2/2/2009)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Imaginative and clever ideas, wryly, cleverly presented.
  • The novels are short, easy, pleasant reads, very heavy on dialogue (which she has an ear for).
  • Her style is simple, and of naive elegance.
  • A fairly unique voice.

    Cons:
  • An adolescent cute- and coyness to the writing that isn't to all tastes.
  • The somewhat contentious cult-figure she has become in the Francophone area, a precocious, popular, and telegenic literary star, damned by (some) critics, adored by her public.
  • Only five titles translated into English -- and each (!) by a different translator

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the complete review's Opinion

     Doe eyed dear Amélie Nothomb is a literary and pop culture phenomenon in France and her native Belgium. A precocious author who made a splash with her debut, Hygiène de l'assassin, she continues to conquer the bestseller lists with her annual novels. Born in Kobe, Japan, the daughter of a diplomat, she maintains a mystique which is a mixture of childish innocence, foreign allure, and literary ambition. Stories such as those about her "record-breaking" descent from Mount Fuji, or the dozens of unpublished novels she has in her drawers add to the interest in her the semi-public, semi-private persona. And it drives some of the critics nuts.
     Nothomb is a queen (or, rather, princess) of the French publishing world, a media darling (which means she is both venerated and attacked). Not the stereotypical dour French intellectual woman writer, the ingénue Nothomb has gone a different path. So far with great success.
     Nothomb's books tend to be fairly (and sometimes deceptively) simple and short, her audience quite (but not exclusively) young. The critics have not taken her too seriously, but Stupeur et tremblements was in consideration for the Goncourt and won the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie in 1999 so she seems to be getting some (surely grudging) respect even from the literary establishment. With her fun, often far-fetched ideas, witty writing (with lots of dialogue to keep things moving), some clever wordplay, and a humorous side to almost every scene the books are enjoyable reads
     There are some elements and themes that appear over and over -- a fascination with the grotesque, a bond between women, a young girl and an older man in shifting positions of power -- but there is still a great deal of variety to the books. Still at her best when she fictionalizes autobiographical episodes (Loving Sabotage, Stupeur et tremblements, and Métaphysique des tubes) she also comes up with good ideas in her wilder fantasies (such as Péplum). Often playful, there is also some thought behind all of her work. She is tackling larger ideas, in best French tradition, but she is doing it differently than we (or the French) are used to.
     Amélie is something else, one is tempted to say with a chuckle. It is difficult to take her completely seriously, but she is a welcome fresh breeze with an appealing voice, raising interesting ideas and presenting them in an endearing literary manner. An entertaining and clever writer, it is not grand literature she produces -- but it is very good, and certainly worthwhile.

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Links

Amélie Nothomb: Amélie Nothomb's books at the complete review: Books about Amélie Nothomb under review: Other books of interest under review:

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