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the Complete Review
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Amélie Nothomb de A à Z

Michel Zumkir

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To purchase Amélie Nothomb de A à Z

Title: Amélie Nothomb de A à Z
Author: Michel Zumkir
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2003
Length: 177 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Amélie Nothomb de A à Z - France
Amélie Nothomb de A à Z - Canada
  • Portrait d'un monstre littéraire
  • Amélie Nothomb de A à Z has not been translated into English
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B : useful odds and ends, a breezy overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Despite her book-a-year output since 1992 and her prominence on the French literary scene, Michel Zumkir's 2003 book appears to be the first devoted to Amélie Nothomb. Perhaps it is because so much of her writing is autobiographical that others have not been tempted, but hers is certainly an interesting story -- both her life-story, as well as that of her peculiar success and fame -- that warrants an outsider's perspective as well. Collecting all sorts of stray material, Zumkir opted for an 'A to Z' approach, presenting the material in alphabetically arranged chunks. It makes for quick, easy reading (and allows the reader to jump back and forth), and does offer all sorts of interesting titbits -- but at the cost of any close analysis, and with much still missing. Still, a better picture of Nothomb does emerge from these little pieces.
       Most usefully, Zumkir talks to many of those close to Nothomb: her parents, her sister (there's barely mention of the distant brother), and several of those who work with her at publisher Albin Michel. We hear from her university thesis adviser that she tackled "la problématique de l'intransitif et de l'intransitivité dans les romans de Bernanos" -- original work, he found, but she only got a 75 % (which doesn't sound very good), and from Sylvie Testud (who played the lead in the film version of Fear and Trembling) -- but Zumkir doesn't go beyond the readily accessible (i.e. there's no word from any of the significant figures in her life from her youth abroad aside from family members). The interviews with Nothomb's parents, and her sister, do provide a bit of additional insight, but at a few pages each are also very limited in scope.
       The numerous publishing-related interviews do offer some interesting background on how Nothomb handles that part of her life, as well as the French publishing industry in general (including how she came to Albin Michel in the first place, instead of Gallimard). There's also some discussion of the foreign reception of Nothomb's works, as Zumkir, for example, talks with Jacqueline Favero, who handles Nothomb's foreign rights.
       Aside from the numerous interviews, Zumkir offers brief discussions of a variety of Nothmbiana, from her (apparently trademark) hat to the tea she drinks. This material varies from the mildly entertaining to the slightly informative (her bedside reading, for example).
       Amélie Nothomb de A à Z is little more than an introductory overview, but useful (and entertaining) enough as such. There's a good deal of rich material here -- but far more is suggested than actually found in these pages. (It's certainly too one-sided: brother André's perspective, at the very least, belongs beside those of her parents and sister.) A thorough study of the life and work of Nothomb is certainly called for by now, but until then Amélie Nothomb de A à Z is a decent appetizer

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Reviews: Amelie Nothomb: Books by Amélie Nothomb under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature at the complete review
  • See Index of Biographical works under review

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About the Author:

       Michel Zumkir was born in Belgium in 1965.

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