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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Amélie Nothomb

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To purchase Antichrista

Title: Antichrista
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 160 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Antichrista - US
Antichrista - UK
Antichrista - Canada
Antéchrista - Canada
Antéchrista - France
Böses Mädchen - Deutschland
Antichrista - Italia
Antichrista - España
  • French title: Antéchrista
  • Translated by Shaun Whiteside

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Our Assessment:

B- : decent touches, but ultimately too simplistic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 21/8/2003 Thierry Gandillot
Independent on Sunday . 7/8/2005 Tom Bonzca-Tomaszewski
Sunday Telegraph . 14/8/2005 Elena Seymenliyska
TLS . 26/3/2004 Ingrid Wassenaar

  From the Reviews:
  • "Avec Antéchrista, on retrouve l'univers nothombien avec un zeste de sadisme, un soupçon de masochisme, une goutte de perversité, une larme d'humour et un doigt de cruauté. Un dosage efficace, mais qui a fini de surprendre." - Thierry Gandillot, L'Express

  • "Nothomb's wit is so dry, like smoke rising up off the charred remains of her characters' foibles; her intelligence is unnerving. She creates a very personal world, but few are more rewarding." - Tom Bonzca-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

  • "The Belgian novelist Amélie Nothomb's slender novel is the fourth of her 13 books to be translated into English, and her hallmark eloquence and precision is only slightly marred here by an inelegant translation." - Elena Seymenliyska, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Like Michel Houellebecq, she shapes stories out of a postmodern, consumer-driven society in which the individual has been paralysed by choice. Where Houellebecq constructs a social critique, however, Nothomb is in danger of reducing her art to minor variations on a single theme; hymns, at their worst, to self-pity." - Ingrid Wassenaar, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Antéchrista is narrated by Blanche, an only child who has just started university in Brussels and still lives with her parents. Younger than most of her classmates, and a solitary soul in any case, she has no friends and doesn't feel she fits in.
       She sums up her life:

J'avais seize ans. Je ne possédais rien, ni biens matériels ni confort spirituel. Je n'avais pas d'ami, pas d'amour, je n'avais rien vécu. Je n'avais pas d'idée, je n'étais pas sûre d'avoir une âme. Mon corps, c'était tout ce que j'avais.

(I was sixteen. I had nothing, neither material goods nor spiritual comfort. I had no friends, no lover, I hadn't experienced anything. I had no idea, and I wasn't sure I had a soul. My body, that's all I had.)
       Eventually Blanche does make a friend, of sorts: the much stronger-willed fellow student Christa. One of the first things Christa does when she visits Blanche is to take off her clothes -- and she demands Blanche do the same. Very self-conscious, Blanche isn't thrilled about this -- but she obeys, and so within a short time Christa has stripped her down to what she considers her very essence. Christa's easy dominance and casual manner bother Blanche, but she isn't strong enough to fight it.
       Christa lives very far away, in the eastern provinces of Belgium, and it is a long commute for her to come and go to school. Blanche volunteers that Christa might want to stay over on a weeknight when it's particularly inconvenient for her to make the trip. Christa immediately lays claim to Blanche's bed -- and in short order has made herself very comfortable in Blanche's home, only returning to her own family on weekends.
       Christa quickly wins over Blanche's parents too, to whom she seems a much more sensible (and sympathetic) girl than their own daughter. Christa becomes like one of the family. Soon it's Blanche that finds herself the odd man out, as her parents almost always take Christa's side.
       The situation becomes increasingly oppressive -- though Blanche does, at times, appreciate the companionship (and the fact that at university she is now not entirely a nobody -- even if she is recognised as little more than Christa's friend). Still, more often than not, she's entertaining homicidal fantasies. and worried about losing everything -- her bed, her parents, her soul -- to Christa.
       Christa is also somewhat secretive: she says she comes from a poor family, she has a mysterious boyfriend back home, and when she goes away over Christmas doesn't even leave a telephone number where she can be reached. She can intrude deeply into Blanche's life, practically taking it over entirely, but she won't allow Blanche to know much about her own.
       Eventually Blanche turns the tables -- at least a bit. Christa turns out not quite to be who she has claimed to be. But Blanche's troubles don't end there: Christa's reach, even once she is no longer part of the household, continues to extend far and her defamatory campaign is quite successful -- for a while. And truly and completely defeating Christa and her influence is, possibly, beyond Blanche's ability.

       Antéchrista is a curious study of how one person can dominate and manipulate others. Nothomb presents some of this well. She's very good at describing Blanche's conflicted frustration and her teenage desperation for approval and friendship. But most of the story is simply too simplistic. There's nothing in the least convincing about how easily Blanche's parents are won over by Christa and how they welcome her in their home and turn against their own flesh and blood, nor is Christa's own powerful personality presented very convincingly. The events, also, are disappointingly bland: among the most momentous is when Blanche does better on an exam than Christa (which is about as exciting as it sounds). Nothomb, who is usually very good with invention, doesn't dazzle here. And even then ending -- usually nicely twisted -- falls fairly flat.
       Antéchrista is a decent little novella, but there's too little to it to fully satisfy.

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Antichrista: 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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