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Amélie Nothomb

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Pour acheter Mercure

Title: Mercure
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 226 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mercure - France
. Mercure - Canada
. Quecksilber - Deutschland
Mercurio - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable little story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express B- 17/9/1998 Thierry Gandillot
Libération C 17/9/1998 Pierre Marcelle
Lire . 10/1998 Jean-Pierre Tison
Der Standard D 22/12/2001 Martin Amanshauser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Propulsée à chaque livraison en tête des listes des meilleures ventes, Amélie Nothomb fonce. Elle ferait mieux de s'arrêter devant un miroir et de réfléchir." - Thierry Gandillot, L'Express

  • "Tant de vaniteuses et agressives coquetteries amènent Amélie à sacrifier ses intrigues à son ego et ses dialogues improbables à des minauderies, dans de longues et vaines digressions: son affaire de Mercure, elle eût pu la boucler en une nouvelle." - Pierre Marcelle, Libération

  • "Ce conte fantastique - à double issue - est un plaidoyer pour ceux et celles que la beauté rend fous. Une absolution pour les ruses du désir. Et une invitation au plaisir." - Jean-Pierre Tison, Lire

  • "Anstelle einer Analyse der Mechanismen von Macht und Ohnmacht liefert Nothomb Seelengequatsche." - Martin Amanshauser, Der Standard

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:

       In Mercure Nothomb again works with a small set of characters, drawn and forced together in somewhat unusual circumstances. The novel is set, almost entirely, in 1923 and on a small, isolated island, owned by the mysterious old Capitaine, Omer Loncours.
       A nurse, Françoise Chavaigne is summoned, to take care of the island's other noteworthy inhabitant, the Captain's young ward, Hazel Englert. Hazel lost both her parents during the war, in a dreadful attack in which she was apparently horribly disfigured. Now approaching her twenty-third birthday, Hazel has fallen slightly ill and needs some medical attention.
       Strict rules are set for Françoise when she comes to the island, the most notable being that she is not allowed to bring a mirror. By order of the Captain there are, indeed, no mirrors to be seen anywhere on the island, indeed nothing that reflects much of anything -- all so Hazel does not have to see her own reflection. (The Capitaine would not have accepted a nurse who wore glasses, for the lenses might have allowed for some reflection.)
       Françoise befriends Hazel -- who is, in any case, more in need of friendship than medical attention. Hazel's relationship with the Captain is decidedly unhealthy, and Françoise slowly learns more about the bizarre goings-on on the island. She also uncovers an old obsession of the Captain's, another young woman that the Captain hid away, but who killed herself.
       Nothomb builds up the story nicely, as Françoise gets drawn closer into this strange circle. The nurse tries to get Hazel to see herself in her true light, but she is thwarted by the Captain at every turn. She goes so far as to purchase thermometers, breaking them for the mercury in which Hazel might glimpse her true reflection. (That is only part of the title-reference, however.)
       It is an atmospheric little novel, and Nothomb's plot-turns are interesting enough. As usual, the book is heavy on dialogue, and most of it is quite clever and reveals the characters well.
       Books by Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Nerval, Swift, Honoré d'Urfé -- and "les contes élisabéthains de lady Amelia Northumb" -- are cited and read, and it is particularly in the vein of Le Fanu that Nothomb tries to write her tale. With moderate success. The setting (the twenties) is a bit odd, but otherwise the elements are there.
       An unusual twist is that Nothomb offers two very different endings. She finishes the book off, then adds an alternate ending, trying to have it both ways. It is an unusual trick, and not entirely satisfactory (and if two endings, why not ten ?). Nevertheless, each ending is quite well done, the second being perhaps the better. Possibly, however, Nothomb felt that she could only use that colder one if she had first made for a happy ending.
       There are little morals throughout the books, and though the Captain is somewhat simplistically painted (the devious, all-knowing, obsessed madman), Nothomb avoids making everything black and white. In particular Nothomb makes Hazel an interesting and somewhat ambiguous victim. We certainly approve of Nothomb's form of provoking thought, well done as usual.
       An entertaining little read, Mercure is nothing special. But Nothomb offers enough ideas, fast and fairly clever dialogue, and plot to keep one entertained. Recommended as a quick, fun -- and somewhat haunting -- read.

Please note and consider that this review is based on the original (French) version of the novel.

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Mercure: 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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