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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Loving Sabotage

Amélie Nothomb

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To purchase Loving Sabotage

Title: Loving Sabotage
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng.: 2000)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Loving Sabotage - US
Loving Sabotage - UK
Loving Sabotage - Canada
Le Sabotage amoureux - Canada
Loving Sabotage - India
Le Sabotage amoureux - France
Liebessabotage - Deutschland
Sabotaggio d'amor - Italia
El sabotaje amoroso - España
  • French title: Le Sabotage amoureux
  • Translated by Andrew Wilson
  • The New Directions edition (US and UK) includes a brief Afterword by the author
  • Awarded the Prix de la Vocation, the Prix Alain-Fournier, and the Prix Chardonne

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Our Assessment:

A+ : a charming, fascinating, and beautiful novel about childhood and love

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
cr Quarterly A 5/2001 M.A.Orthofer
The Guardian A 26/11/2005 Isobel Montgomery
Publishers Weekly . 2/10/2000 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Summer/2001 Alan Tinkler

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Loving Sabotage, however, Nothomb's self-assurance and faux-naif approach work to best effect. The novel is a charming and clever entertainment. It is also, despite its slight appearance, both substantial and resonant." - M.A.Orthofer, complete review Quarterly

  • "This barely disguised memoir is a beautifully funny avowal of the seven-year-old Nothomb's proudly child-centric assertion: "When I'm grown up, I'll think about when I was a kid." " - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "Readers who have yet to discover the feather-ruffling pleasures of reading popular Belgian author Nothomb (...) should jump at the chance with this utterly disarming send-up of a precocious seven-year-old girl's collision with Communist China. (...) With deadpan, ironical bite, Nothomb re-creates a child's insular, supremely egocentric world. While the Chinese setting is evocative, this short novel will benefit from targeting to any reader who is sympathetic to a child's view of the world." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Loving Sabotage is not a lament about childhood experiences but rather an interesting celebration of awareness. (...) Not only is the story compelling, the prose is exceptional." - Alan Tinkler, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The book is ruthless, as wild and exact as a snakebite. It is still her finest work." - Charlotte Shane, Bookforum (9-11/2018)

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:

       Le sabotage amoureux -- Loving Sabotage, as it now is in its long anticipated English incarnation -- is one marvelous little book. Indeed, it is one of the best books about childhood we can recall, and we recommend it very, very highly indeed.
       The lovely Mlle. Nothomb, literary Wunderkind, has some fine material to work with. A diplomat's daughter (father Nothomb has had numerous important postings as a member of Belgium's diplomatic corps), Amélie was born in Kobe and spent several years of her childhood in the notorious diplomatic compound in Beijing, the San Li Tun ghetto. This is the setting for Le Sabotage amoureux. The time ? 1972 to 1975 -- fun years in China, indeed !
       Our heroine corresponds closely -- in age and background -- to the author, and it is this time of being five and six and seven that Nothomb relates. The great "wars" of the ghetto -- epic struggles and battles -- between the children of the different nations, thrown together here, stands in contrast to an adult world that barely intrudes on their games. The games are childish and yet gravely serious, a miniature of world politics (the organized East Germans, for example, at odds with the others), the consequences only vaguely understood. Nothomb uses her heroines innocence well, suggesting the dangers of the adult world, yet allowing her to remain a child.
       Also introduced are youthful (but never childish) infatuations, centering around a love that is completely innocent, indeed more veneration and adoration than love. This aspect of the novel is very sweet, but never treacly. Nothomb is a traditional romantic, and it is a completely successful (if very unconventional) love story that she has fashioned here.
       It is, most of all, a book about childish passion and infatuation. Nothomb's voice is perfect, never trying to make too much out of the small plot, yet understanding that there is an ominous world at large all about. Nothomb keeps that reality largely at bay but, among many other things, Loving Sabotage is also trenchant analysis of late Maoist China. The exotic setting, the unsettling period in history obviously help supply an underlying tension to the story, and Nothomb balances it perfectly with the irreality of the childish world in the diplomatic compound.
       The presentation is often simple -- brief passages, short sentences -- but, though seen through a child's eyes, it is never a childish book. Nothomb cleverly handles a number of complex themes with a deceptively light touch: the novel is never ponderous, and yet it is filled with insights (into love, politics, and childhood). Nothomb's blend of worldly and childish judgement's works beautifully throughout:

     "The world is all that is the case," wrote Wittgenstein in his admirable prose.
     In 1974, Peking was not the case: I don't know how else to describe the situation.
     Wittgenstein  was  not my preferred reading when I was seven.     Yet I had already arrived at the above concept through my own observations, and concluded that Peking and the world had little to do with each other.
     Still, I had accommodated myself to it. I had a horse, and a brain bubbling over with oxygen. In fact, I had everything. I was an epic unto myself.
       (Her horse is, of course, in fact merely a bicycle, transformed by the power of her imagination: "My bicycle had taken such a mythic dimension in my life that it had achieved equine status.")

       Andrew Wilson's translation serves the text well, capturing Nothomb's sharp, wry, winning tone.

       It is a lovely, lovely book indeed. Simple, short, it is an excellent little read. Highly recommended, for one and all.

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Loving Sabotage: Reviews: Amelie Nothomb: Other books by Amélie Nothomb under review: Books about Amélie Nothomb under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

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

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