HYGIENE AND ASSASSIN by Amelie Nothomb
“How droll. Iâve always had a soft spot for dissertation topics, I find them very entertaining. Those sweet students who, to imitate a great man, write idiotic things with hyper-sophisticated titles, when the contents are the very height of banalityâlike a pretentious restaurant embellishing scrambled eggs with a grandiose description.”
Review by Guy Savage Â (NOV 04, 2010)
Belgian author AmĂ©lie Nothomb came to my attention a few years ago through a French film. The film, Fear and Trembling (which is excellent, by the way) is based on Nothombâs biographical experiences–specifically when she worked for a Japanese company in Tokyo. Hygiene and the Assassin is Nothombâs first novel, originally published in 1992.
The novelâs plot is straightforward. 83-year-old Nobel Laureate PrĂ©textat Tach is dying. This notoriously reclusive and cantankerous author only has a few months to live, and journalists flock to his home hoping to land a rare interview. PrĂ©textatâs faithful secretary selects five names from the horde of applicants. The “fortunate” five journalists then, one after another, enter the lair of the famous author–all of them certain that they will land the interview coup of a lifetime. PrĂ©textatâs work is obscure and defies interpretation, and the fact that he hasnât written a word in twenty-four years fuels the competition for the interview.
Four of the five journalists are doomed to disappointment. They all expect some sort of brilliant, if difficult recluse, but they discover that PrĂ©textat is a repulsive, grossly obese misogynist with a self-proclaimed âPhD in masturbation.â The interviews between the journalists and PrĂ©textat dissolve into spitefully witty verbal duels with the author entertaining himself at the journalistsâ expense until he can discover some point of outrage to exploit. One journalist, for example, is so revolted by PrĂ©textatâs eating habits, he exits and promptly vomits.
The fifth journalist, Nina, is a woman–surely destined to become PrĂ©textatâs final victim. Just what secrets Nina uncovers are the gist of this tale.
The first part of Hygiene and the Assassin has a playfulness and humour which is in direct, sometimes grating contrast to the cruel disgustingness of PrĂ©textat–a man whose blubber and toxicity is comparable to Jabba the Hutt. The encounters with the first four journalists are entertaining and emphasize PrĂ©textatâs eccentricities. The interviews begin in polite, hopeful reverence and end in various humiliations–all very amusing if one is willing to laugh at the expense of the journalists who are constrained by politeness and who are painfully desperate to land a good interview. The book is at its strongest when PrĂ©textat waxes on about the literati, and the section about authors âwho write in order to be invited to peopleâs drawing rooms,â is a particularly acidic interpretation of the adulation some authors inspire amongst pseudo-intellectuals. The story, however, shifts and loses its humour once Nina takes control, and she begins to peel away PrĂ©textatâs lies through an intricate analysis of his books. At this point, the novel loses its bite and its rarity while it dissolves into the banality of cheap resolution. Ultimately PrĂ©textatâs ugly story–part crime, part loony rant forms a modern-day fable of misogyny unleashed and revenged. (Translated by Alison Anderson.)
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from X readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Europa Editions; Reissue edition (October 26, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||Not Yet|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on AmĂ©lie Nothomb|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- Hygiene and the Assassin ( HygiĂšne de l’assassin 1992; October 2010 in US)
- Loving Sabotage (Le Sabotage amoureux 1993; 2000 in US) *
- The Stranger Next Door (Les Catilinaires 1995; 1998 in US)
- PĂ©plum (1996)
- Attentat (1997)
- Mercure (1998)
- Fear and Trembling (Stupeur et tremblements, 1999; 2001 in US) *
- The Character of Rain (MĂ©taphysique des tubes 2000; 2002 in US) *
- CosmĂ©tique de L’ennemi (2001)
- The Book of Proper Names (Robert des noms propres 2002; 2005 in UK)
- Antichrista (AntĂ©christa 2003; 2005 in UK)
- The Life of Hunger (Biographie de la faim 2004; 2007 in UK)
- Sulphuric Acid (Acide sulfurique 2005; April 2008 in UK)
- Tokyo FiancĂ©e (Ni d’Ăve Ni d’Adam 2007; January 2009 in US ) *
- Le fait du prince (2008)
Movies from Books:
- Fear and Trembling (2005)