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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Journal d'Hirondelle

Amélie Nothomb

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To purchase Journal d'Hirondelle

Title: Journal d'Hirondelle
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 137 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Journal d'Hirondelle - Canada
Journal d'Hirondelle - France
Diario di rondine - Italia
Diario de Golondrina - España
  • Journal d'Hirondelle has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a cleverly twisted tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 24/8/2006 Anne Berthod
Le Figaro . 14/9/2006 Olivier Delcroix

  From the Reviews:
  • "Voilà encore une de ces histoires décalées avec lesquelles Nothomb a, par le passé, prouvé son talent. On retrouve d'ailleurs, dans certains dialogues, ces fulgurances délicieusement absurdes dont elle a le secret. Mais pas assez, malheureusement, pour faire lever le soufflé." - Anne Berthod, L'Express

  • "Mais quelques plates considérations romanesques, ­brodées sur une intrigue sans surprise, ne font pas un grand livre. (...) Journal d'Hirondelle bat de l'aile comme un petit volatile affolé, qui se cognerait contre les murs de la littérature, avant de finir sa vie en script calibré pour série­télé." - Olivier Delcroix, Le Figaro

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:

       Journal d'Hirondelle is narrated by a man who identifies himself only by the pseudonym Urbain. He acknowledges that he suffered a devastating heartbreak; overwhelmed by sorrow he eventually killed off any sense of feeling he had, committing a 'sensory suicide'. Life starts anew for him then -- but it's a very different kind of life, as he becomes a cool and completely detached hit-man.
       Eventually he gets a big assignment: not only to kill a minister (it wouldn't be the first politician he's taken out) but to liquidate his entire family -- the wife and three kids, too. Urbain doesn't have a moral problem with the job ('Pah, kids. I detest kids. They're wicked, stupid, egotistical and obstreperous') and the unusual added requirement -- he only gets paid if he also brings back the minister's briefcase -- doesn't faze him either.
       A pro, he has no difficulty offing the wife and two younger kids, but then things get more complicated: he comes upon the minister taking a bath -- and his teenage daughter in the room, with a gun trained on her father, accusing him of the worst sort of violation. Yes, he apparently took and read her diary (and, yes, this being a novel by Nothomb -- even one which by that point already has a very high body-count --, there is no greater imaginable crime and betrayal).
       Their confrontation includes the great exchange:

     - Je suis ton père. Tun ne vas pas tuer ton père.
     - Ça s'appelle un parricide. Si ça porte un nom, c'est que ça existe.
     - Tuer ton père pout un journal intime !
     - Il n'y a pas de mot pour la violation d'un journal. Ça prouve que c'est plus grave. C'est innommable.

     [- I am your father. You're not going to kill your own father.
     - It's called parricide. If it has a name, it's because it exists.
     - Killing your father over a diary !
     - There's no word for the violation of a diary. That proves it's worse. It's unspeakable.]
       Urbain's assignment gets completed, even if not exactly as planned. Checking the contents of the briefcase when he gets home, he finds the girl's diary ("journal intime" in the more suggestive French). Between that and an encounter with a swallow that strays into his apartment (the hirondelle of the title), Urbain again finds himself a changed man, as the deeply private text -- even if they only be teenage ramblings -- takes on symbolic meaning for him, so much so that he sees it as not a but rather the most sacred of texts.
       When it then came time to complete his mission and to hand over the contents of the briefcase Urbain didn't quite do what he was supposed to, holding onto the diary. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a bad idea.
       Urbain does try to reinvent himself again -- going so far as to give his name now as 'Innocent' next time he's asked. Of course, it's too late for him by then -- but he does manage to turn his life around again, while also making the greatest of sacrifices.
       Journal d'Hirondelle is an admittedly odd little work. With a Radiohead soundtrack, it covers in yet new variations many of Nothomb's favorite themes. Here too there is a protagonist who gorges himself -- like many of Nothomb's creations, he winds up having an unhealthy (or at least abnormal) relationship with food -- and one without healthy relationships. (The sex is funky, too -- suffice it to say that Urbain admits: "L'érotisme onaniste n'était décidément pas une science exacte.")
       The pay-off works very nicely, however, as Nothomb brings things to a perfect (and perfectly Nothombian) conclusion in this creatively reflective work, an appealing affirmation of the primacy and value of the written word, all the more resonant for coming from an author known for her deeply personal texts (many remaining hidden in her drawers, as she claims only to publish one out of every four or so she's written).
       Yes, murder is presented far too casually here, Urbain is arguably too extreme a character (in all his extremes), and Nothomb doesn't give his victims -- even the teenage daughter -- a sufficient voice or presence. Yet even as so much is rather simplistic here, the story as a whole is surprisingly successful -- and affecting, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 February 2013

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Journal d'Hirondelle: 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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