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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tuer le père

Amélie Nothomb

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To purchase Tuer le père

Title: Tuer le père
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011
Length: 130 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Tuer le père - Canada
Tuer le père - France
Den Vater töten - Deutschland
Uccidere il padre - Italia
Matar al padre - España
  • Tuer le père has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B : playful, though a bit thin for all its ambition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 24/8/2011 François Busnel
Le Monde . 25/8/2011 Jean Birnbaum

  From the Reviews:
  • "Le résultat est un petit livre cruel et dur, non dénué de cet humour purement nothombien qui s'exerce dans les dialogues tout autant que dans l'emploi de la grammaire française (ou franco-belge, qui sait ?)." - François Busnel, L'Express

  • "Entre exaltation et dérision, Nothomb entretient ici un rapport au texte apparemment désinvolte mais, en réalité, extrêmement profond. Une relation au langage qui nous charme, nous oblige à regarder ailleurs, à redécouvrir les choses autrement." - Jean Birnbaum, Le Monde

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:

       Tuer le père is set almost entirely in Nevada, though the framing device has an unrecognized and uninvited Amélie Nothomb visit a Paris club, L'Illégal, celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2010 with a large gathering of magicians; here she learns the story of Joe Whip and Norman Terence, an account that takes up almost all of the novel. (The framing device is almost superfluous, but does make for an amusing entrance, as Nothomb -- habitually decked out in large black hat -- is assumed to be someone in a clever Nothomb-costume, rather than the real thing, appropriate enough in a novel about deceit, trickery, and identity. Beside herself in person, she can't seem to help herself in dropping other little trademark bits in her story, either: one character briefly describes a teenage anorexic phase, while there's also a Belgian connection.)
       The story proper begins in Reno, Nevada, in 1994 (Nothomb is precise in her settings in this novel, paying a lot of attention to dates and ages) where fourteen-year-old Joe Whip's mother, after going through a lot of men, so disposable that she can't even remember their names (Joe's father somewhere among them -- she won't tell him who he is), finally decides to settle down with a man -- another Joe. Three's a crowd, and mom has a suggestion: she'll give the kid a thousand bucks a month to make himself scarce -- move out and live on his own. He agrees and moves into town (mom lives on the periphery). Since the age of eight his passion has been magic, and he's already dexterous with the cards; in this gambling paradise he can impress with his little tricks.
       When he's fifteen he gets some advice: apprentice to a master. Conveniently enough, there's one in Reno: Norman Terence -- and Norman is willing to take him in. Also part of the household is Christina, Norman's girlfriend -- who literally plays with fire professionally. Conveniently, Norman is old enough to be Joe's father -- twenty years his senior -- but Christina isn't old enough to be his mother: ten years older than Joe, ten years younger than Norman, Christina sits uneasily between the two and, of course, Joe falls for her too.
       Norman becomes the father-figure Joe never had; substitute not-quite-mom Christina makes the Oedipal angle a bit more palatable than usual. And, as Norman understands early on, father-son relationships are complicated:

Il m'adore comme un gamin de quinze ans adore son père. Donc, il a envie de me tuer.

[He love me like a fifteen-year-old kid loves his dad. So, of course, he wants to kill me.]
       Hovering near is also the annual Burning Man festival. Not only is it mom's money-maker -- she has the last bike-shop on the way, and since bikes are the only way of getting around there she makes a mint around festival time -- it's also the highlight of Christina's year, where she gets to put on her show. Joe desperately wants to join Norman and Christina on their annual pilgrimage, but they won't let him until he turns eighteen. Among their concerns: the LSD in circulation there.
       Norman and Joe debate the line between magic and cheating, with Joe suggesting: "la magie, c'est de la triche" -- magic is just another con. Norman differentiates between the two: magic distorts reality in a positive way for the audience, fooling them in a way that does no harm; cheating (at cards) is just for the purpose of taking their money. It remains an issue between them, and also leads up to the novel's final twist, in which Joe turns out to have been playing a long con (with predictable results).
       There are Burning Man escapades too -- Joe's birthday present when he turns eighteen -- complete with hallucinogenic trips. On several levels, Tuer le père deals with what's real and what only appears so -- the magician's sleight of hand only one of the many sleights overlapping here.
       Nothomb doesn't always appear entirely comfortable in setting her novel almost entirely in Nevada -- the choice of the most basic of names, 'Joe', from an author who otherwise calls her characters 'Epiphane' and 'Prétextat' and the like, is already telling. It's also a rather forced set-up, from Joe's healthy monthly allowance to the convenience of landing in Norman's household. But Nothomb offers a lot of nice, small detail, and she does the personal dynamics well.
       It's not a particularly convincing story, and lurches forward and about a bit too hastily, but it is a nuanced, layered take on personal deceit and relationships, in many variations. If anything, Nothomb tries to cram too much in.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 April 2014

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Tuer le père: 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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