Book Quote:

“How droll. I’ve 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 banality—like a pretentious restaurant embellishing scrambled eggs with a grandiose description.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (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 Nothomb’s biographical experiences–specifically when she worked for a Japanese company in Tokyo. Hygiene and the Assassin is Nothomb’s first novel, originally published in 1992.

The novel’s 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©textat’s 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©textat’s work is obscure and defies interpretation, and the fact that he hasn’t 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 Prétextat is a repulsive, grossly obese misogynist with a self-proclaimed “PhD in masturbation.” The interviews between the journalists and Prétextat dissolve into spitefully witty verbal duels with the author entertaining himself at the journalists’ expense until he can discover some point of outrage to exploit. One journalist, for example, is so revolted by Prétextat’s eating habits, he exits and promptly vomits.

The fifth journalist, Nina, is a woman–surely destined to become PrĂ©textat’s 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©textat’s 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 “who write in order to be invited to people’s drawing rooms,” 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©textat’s 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©textat’s ugly story–part crime, part loony rant forms a modern-day fable of misogyny unleashed and revenged. (Translated by Alison Anderson.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0 from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions; Reissue edition (October 26, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Amélie Nothomb
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


*fictionalized autobiography

Movies from Books:

November 11, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  Â· Posted in: Debut Novel, France, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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