Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Amélie Nothomb

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Attentat

Title: Attentat
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 216 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Attentat - Canada
Attentat - France
Attentat - Deutschland
Attentato - Italia
Atentado - España
  • Attentat has not yet been translated into English

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable grotesqueries, though the story also a bit misshapen

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 4/9/1997 Olivier Le Naire
Le Soir . 25/8/1997 Pierre Maury

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dans son nouveau roman (Attentat), elle détourne non sans humour le mythe de Quasimodo. (...) Comme d'habitude, son roman se lit d'une traite. Comme d'habitude, il est truffé de formules drôles et vicieuses." - Olivier Le Naire, L'Express

  • "Sur ce sujet difficile, Amélie Nothomb trouve le moyen d'être aussi drôle que tragique. Elle ne réécrit pas, malgré une certaine similitude de thèmes, «La Belle et la Bête». Mais elle s'invente, avec des mécanismes de narration personnels qui utilisent, bien sûr, la conversation (on connaît son talent de dialoguiste), mais aussi le fax, un univers délirant. Et quand les événements se précipitent, elle nous emporte au rythme d'un récit qui ne faiblit jamais, jusqu'à la dernière ligne." - Pierre Maury, Le Soir

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Attentat is narrated by Epiphane Otos, nicknamed 'Quasimodo' since earliest childhood because of his exceptional, stunning ugliness. In trying to describe his misshapen face he suggests it resembles an ear; in case his visage alone isn't repulsive enough, he can bare his nauseatingly acne-pocked shoulders to really knock you out. He is nearly thirty years old -- surely not coincidentally, he was born, like author Nothomb, in 1967, as even in her less obviously autobiographical tales she identifies with the grotesque outcasts -- and he harbors no illusions. He's resigned himself to chastity as well, not even wanting to inflict himself on the prostitutes who would be the only ones who might be willing, at the proper price, to share any intimacy with him.
       Of course, where there is a Quasimodo there is an Esméralda, and Epiphane finds his, an actress named Ethel. His funds -- an inheritance -- running low, he casts around for some sort of employment, and a casting call for an: "homme hideux pour film d’art" sounds promising. One look, however, and it's clear that his appearance is even too ghastly for such a role: "Nous tournons un film d art, pas un film d horreur" ('We're making an art film, not a horror film'), he's told.
       He does encounter the star of the movie, the stunning Ethel, and she is the only one not taken aback by him (though she doesn't immediately realize that this is how he always looks ...). Epiphane is immediately completely taken by her, and they become friends. Epiphane even enlists her to help with his next employment project -- the inspired idea to present himself at a modelling agency. His spiel is a good -- and ultimately winning -- one: in a time where it has become almost impossible for a beautiful model to stand out any longer he offers himself as the shocking contrast that enhances actual beauty. The agency takes some convincing -- and he was right to understand that he needed Ethel to get his foot in the door -- but once they sign him up his career takes off. Repoussoir professionnel ('professional repulser'): it's the perfect gig for the likes of him, and proves incredibly successful.
       Ethel appreciates Epiphane as confidante and friend, but Epiphane has deeper, romantic feelings, and when Ethel confesses that she has fallen in love -- with someone else -- jealousy rears its ugly head. He tries to interfere -- and stake his own place -- but matters, and the timing, are further complicated by him having plans half a world away: Epiphane gets the opportunity to be one of the judges for a Miss Universe-type pageant, 'Miss International', held that year in Kanazawa, Japan. [The dates don't match precisely -- Nothomb moves them ahead by a couple of months -- but the 1996 Miss International® competition was indeed held in Kanazawa, Japan -- though a Portuguese contestant won, not a Brazilian one, as she has it.]
       Before he leaves, Epiphane insists that Ethel get a fax machine (hey, it was 1997, and e-mail was not yet well-established): he wants to be able to communicate with her from the great distance -- he has so much to tell her -- and the telephone just won't do ("Le téléphone, surtout à longue distance, empoisonne les confidences"). He bares his heart and soul in a series of faxes he sends her -- only to find that she has seen things differently all along.
       Could there be anything but a tragic end ? And yet, in conclusion, Epiphane can say:

Je lui suis devenu indispensable: elle n'est vraiment rien sans moi.

[I have become indispensable to her: she is truly nothing without me.]
       Which is, in a way, true -- but only in a way. Nothomb isn't one for easily happy endings: the closing words are: "Il n'y a pas d'amour impossible" ('There is no such thing as impossible love') and yet Epiphane's last(ing) joy isn't exactly one to aspire to.
       Early on, Epiphane says: "J'aime mon histoire parce qu'elle est tarte" -- essentially, 'I like my story because it's so ridiculous', and as so often with Nothomb's tales, many of the pleasures are indeed to be found in the grotesquely ridiculous incidents and asides. So, here, for example, Epiphane's Japanese hotel-room struggles, as the windows first won't open, then won't close (with disastrous results). Or the terrible art-film that Ethel starred in, when it is finally screened. Or the nice touch of Epiphane claiming in one of his faxes that he's reading Kant's Critique of Pure Reason on the flight to Japan (but admits to the reader that, of course, he hasn't brought that along as reading-matter)-- and then, when he claims to have finished it, writes to Ethel: "Un bon bouquin, je te le recommande" (in tone practically: 'A fine little book, I recommend it to you').
       It's the small observations and odd twists and turns and all the absurdities that make for an entertaining read, and Nothomb certainly offers a different spin on the usual beauty-and-the-beast tale. Some incongruities -- the faxed confessions ! -- do give it an odd feel, especially now, but since it's a work meant to jar with oddity, even that sort of works.
       Attentat does also feel strikingly personal, and it's surely no coincidence that this is a rare Nothomb of clear immediacy, taking place in 1996-7 (it was first published in 1997), with a narrator of exactly Nothomb's age -- and one, who among other things, at one point is pulled to Japan. The love story is also nicely complicated by Ethel's struggles to reveal her own love -- and by the man she wants to give her heart to being fascinated, rather than repulsed, by Epiphane; the whole story feels like a real one, abstracted from very near-by.
       A bit rough and sometimes obvious, there's also a surprising delicacy to the treatment of the subject-matter -- though Nothomb sure does love to wallow in her excesses, too -- and the finer touches, and the poignancy, help even out the bumpier parts.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 April 2017

- Return to top of the page -


Attentat: 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

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2017-2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links