Hygiène de l’Assassin [Hygiene and the Assassin] by Amélie Nothomb

Read: 24 September, 2008

This is my second Nothomb book. My mother joined a French reading club a while back that read this and Stupeur et Tremblements. Once done, she sent me these two books to read. I read the first right away and then waited an eternity before getting to Hygiène.

It’s a great book. I love Nothomb’s writing style. She uses almost no narrative, the vast majority of the story revealed through dialogue. It reads almost like a play, except that the speakers are not named. Yet, because her characters stand out so strongly and so uniquely, I was never confused as to who was speaking. It’s amazing, also, that so much drama comes through in a story with next to no action. It’s like reading a battle narrative, on the edge of my seat, watching a sparring match in which one seems to be the winner, then the underdog turns the tables, then the initial winner gains an advantage, etc.

It’s a strange book. The first half introduce us to Prétextat Tach, a dying author being interviewed by a series of journalists. The second half is entirely different as one journalist is able to work her way beyond all Tach’s masks and reaches the dark past and insanity he hides. It’s sad, hilarious, and completely ridiculous all at once.

I don’t know if there are any English translations of this book. If there are, I highly recommend giving it a read.

I am at a complete loss as to how to label this book. I apologize for the absurdly poor choice I’ve made, but I see none better.

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Stupeur et Tremblement [Fear and Trembling] by Amélie Nothomb

Read: 6 November, 2007

The story is fairly simple. A Belgian woman was born in Japan and returns in her early twenties to work in a large shipping company. Once there, she discovers a rigid code of conduct that demands she suppress her individuality and intelligence for the company. The autobiographical story is a fairly short and simple read. It is alternately thought-provoking and comical.

The story’s greatest strength lies in its characterisations. The narrator and her boss, Mori Fubuki, receive the most attention in this respect, but the pictures Nothomb paints of the other characters are equally enchanting and, at times, frightening.

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