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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Cosmétique de l'ennemi

by
Amélie Nothomb


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To purchase Cosmétique de l'ennemi



Title: Cosmétique de l'ennemi
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 140 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Cosmétique de l'ennemi - France
Cosmétique de l'ennemi - Canada
Kosmetik des Bösen - Deutschland
Cosmetica del nemico - Italia
Cosmética del enemigo - España
  • Cosmétique de l'ennemi has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever piece of psychological terrorizing and terror

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express B+ 23/8/2001 Thierry Gandillot
L'Humanité B- 23/8/2001 Candice Goupil


  From the Reviews:
  • "Bref, ça se lit vite, sans déplaisir, avec un arrière-goût de déjà-vu." - Thierry Gandillot, L'Express

  • "(L)a joute oratoire, si elle reste par accès jubilatoire, sonne un peu le creux et l'alternance entre boutades et échanges de haut vol, qui faisait le charme des précédents romans, ne fonctionne pas. (…) Bref, Cosmétique intègre tous les éléments d'un roman à la Nothomb, mais l'alchimie ne prend qu'à moitié. (…) (D)e cet auteur, on attend mieux." - Candice Goupil, L'Humanité

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       It is just not Jérôme Angust's day: first the plane he is about to take gets delayed ("pour une durée indéterminée" -- i.e. for god knows how long), then a man comes up to him and insists on talking. And talking, and talking. Jérôme Angust isn't eager to enter into a conversation, but the man -- Textor Texel, he introduces himself, from Holland -- just won't go away. And when Angust tries to go away Texel just follows.
       Texel is annoying, perhaps, but he seems harmless enough. A familiar figure, almost: a lonely stranger seeking some company who sets his sights on one person and can't be shaken off. It's the minor kind of airplane-lounge nightmare that many travellers will be familiar with.
       Cosmétique de l'ennemi is presented almost entirely in the form of a dialogue between the two men -- indeed, there are fewer descriptive passages than there are stage directions in the average play. But Nothomb can evoke a great deal merely with dialogue, a technique she has used in previous books similarly well. Her presentation also makes the brief passages that don't come from the mouths of the characters, but rather describe the action (especially the brief opening paragraph, and then the close) all the more effective.
       The dialogue begins pretty much as banally as one might expect, with one person eager to engage in conversation, and the other trying to avoid it at all costs. But Texel -- a word-weaver, as his unusual names suggests -- won't be stopped, and he does, in fact, have an unusual life-story to recount. He killed someone, for example -- or at least he felt like he did, when he was eight and prayed that a classmate would die and he found out the next day that the boy had, indeed, died.
       Texel seems to be a pretty sad fellow, who led a sad and unexceptional life -- but things are not quite what they appear to be. His revelations seem, at least at first, relatively minor -- this childhood "murder", his crisis of faith -- but the story does then take some darker turns. Texel is haunted, by the enemy within ("l'ennemi intérieur"):

Je crois en l'ennemi parce que, tous les jours et toutes les nuits, je le rencontre sur mon chemin. L'ennemi est celui qui, de l'intérieur, détruit ce qui en vaut la peine.

(I believe in the enemy because, all the days and all the nights, I encounter him on my path. The enemy is the one who, from within, destroys everything worthwhile.)
       Angust isn't particularly impressed -- he just sees himself faced with an exterior enemy who simply won't shut up. But Texel is a convincing tortured soul, and as he continues to drone on he reveals darker, less pleasant pieces from his past. Including incidents of violation and violence.
       Nothomb provides more than one twist as the sinister tale continues to unfold. The day, for example, -- Angust's unlucky day -- 24 March 1999, turns out to be of some significance (and unlucky in ways he wouldn't have thought of imagining). The identity of Texel's one great love comes as a surprise. And ultimately all of Texel's story -- seemingly random, with a few odd coincidences -- unblurs, coming into razor-sharp focus as perfectly designed and presented. A spider's web. Ensnaring Angust.
       Texel is "quelqu'un d'extrêmement formaliste" ("someone terribly precise"). The rigorous "cosmétique" he follows isn't the cosmetics of the modern make-up sense (another example of the language games Nothomb likes to put in her titles and books). For him:
La cosmétique (...) est la science de l'ordre universel, la morale suprême qui détermine le monde.

Cosmetics is the science of the universal order, the supreme moral which determines the world.
       Texel, the self-styled Jansenist, lives up to this, as everything ultimately falls into place. He achieves his goal of revealing Angust's deeply hidden enemy within -- and of finding the freedom he seeks.
       Angust strains to oppose him at all points, not wanting to believe Texel's awful claims. But it is futile. As Texel says: "On a les criminels qu'on mérite." ("One gets the criminals one deserves.") And Angust certainly got his.

       Cosmétique de l'ennemi is a slight book, short even for a novella, but Nothomb packs a lot into it. The reader, like Angust, is lulled into letting down his guard, and Nothomb then offers some sharp and fairly clever twists. The final dénouement can't come as a complete surprise, but Nothomb plays it for all its worth.
       It is a high stakes game Texel and Angust play, and Nothomb presents it very nicely. And, as usual, the deceptively light fiction offers some surprising depths, as she nicely brings in some thornier moral issues (and a few clever literary allusions). The novel also manages to be both consistently humorous and serious throughout: a neat balancing act.
       Cosmétique de l'ennemi is an accomplished and enjoyable little entertainment. Certainly recommended.

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Links:

Cosmétique de l'ennemi: Reviews: Amelie Nothomb: Other books by Amélie Nothomb under review: Books about Amélie Nothomb under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Amélie Nothomb was born in Kobe, Japan, August 13, 1967.

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