The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Premier sang [First Blood]. The book starts with a man facing a firing squad and moves to his childhood in an unconventional Belgian aristocratic family. We gradually realise that it is, in fact, the story of Nothomb’s father, Patrick, a diplomat who served in the former Belgian Congo where he did, indeed, face a a firing squad. Patrick died last year (2020) so presumably Nothomb had to wait till he died to reveal some of his secrets or, perhaps, her imagined secrets, though the account is generally a very sympathetic one.
I read and reviewed Lize Spit/‘s The Melting four years ago (in German). It has since been translated into various languages but will be appearing in English – finally! – this week. I can highly recommend it.
The latest addition to my website is Henri Calet‘s La Fièvre des Polders [Polder Fever]. Calet’s third novel is set in Burrh, a small Belgian town near the Dutch border, where there are polders, i.e. land reclaimed from the sea and rivers. Ward Waterwind sells beer but drinks too many of the profits and spends too much time with the customers, to the disgust of his wife, Nette. She runs an inn where the beer is sold, helped by her daughter Odilia, a quiet and unassuming young woman, but who is having sex with various people, including her brother. Ward has grandiose plans but lacks brains, business sense and a sense of responsibility and on the day celebrating the opening of the new quayside development, it all goes horribly wrong for Ward and his family. It is an excellent story of a backward small Belgian town and its residents but sadly has not been translated into any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Les aérostats [Airships]. Ange, a nineteen-year old university student in Brussels gets a job teaching a sixteen-year old boy who is allegedly dyslexic (he isn’t) and who needs helps with his French studies. The pay is generous but the father is controlling. However, while the boy makes considerable improvement with Ange, he also starts to fall in love with her. Ange had been very lonely, having no friends but now, at the same time, her professor falls in love with her so she has two men in love with her, one still a boy, one older than her father.
The latest edition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Soif [Thirst]. Nothomb had long been planning to write her Jesus novel but had not felt able to do so till 2019. It tells his story, from his point of view, from the trial to the resurrection. This is not your conventional religious novel, as this Jesus, while aware of his deity is very much a human being, one who feels pain (and thirst), love and admiration for his parents and romantic love for Mary Magdalene. We follow him through his trial, night in prison, stations of the cross, crucifixion and resurrection and he tells us both how he is feeling, while giving us his views on humans, on God, on how he will be received and on what he did and why. He is critical of some of the conventional views of what he did and said (as reported in the Bible), bitter when the beneficiaries of his miracles criticise him, and explains how thirst is a key human feeling.If you are very religious, you might feel some concern about this approach but, for the rest of us, it is an interesting point of view.
Latest on my website: Amélie Nothomb‘s Les prénoms épicènes [The Epicene First Names]. This is a Nothomb parable, telling the tale of a couple with epicene first names, (names which can be used for either sex) and their daughter called Epicène. He (Claude) had seduced her (Dominique) and persuaded her to marry him and move with him to Paris (from Brest). She could not get pregnant for a long time but, when she did, she had a daughter whom they called Epicène. However, there is considerable antipathy, turning to hate, between father and daughter, and things only get worse, till we learn of a dastardly plot by Claude at the expense of his wife and daughter, for which he will have to pay a high price. As always, Nothomb tells her tale well and makes her point.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Frappe-toi le coeur [Strike Your Heart], her latest annual novel. This is something of a change from her normal style, as it is a damning indictment of two mothers, for both neglecting and spoiling their children, with dire consequences. The heroine is Diane, whose mother Marie is looking forward to the good life, which does not include motherhood. She virtually ignores Diane, her first child, but indulges her son, Nicolas, and then overspoils her daughter, Celia. Diane goes on to study cardiology and becomes close to her university lecturer, Olivia Aubusson, who also neglects her daughter, Mariel. Diane helps Olivia become a full professor, something she has been denied for sexist reasons, but then feels betrayed by Olivia. Olivia and Marie will pay a bitter price and they will leave three scarred daughters.
The latest addition to my website is Lize Spit‘s Het smelt [The Melting]. This is a début novel by a young Belgian writer and a superb novel it is. Surprisingly for a début novel, it has already been published in three other languages, with two more early next year and rights sold in several other languages, including English. It tells the story of Eva who lives in a Belgian farming village We learn a lot about her, her family and friends but follow, in alternating chapters, her story in the summer of 2002, when her two close male friends, Pim and Laurens, started behaving very badly and dragged her along with their behaviour, culminating in a traumatic event for all three, and also the present day when she is invited to an event where, it seems she will try to get her revenge for what happened in 2002. Spit gradually reveals bits of the puzzle – what happened that day, what is Eva planning, what happened to Eva’s sister, why did Pim’s brother really die – and shows a conventional Belgian village which hides many grim secrets.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Riquet à la houppe [Riquet with the Tuft]. This is a modern updating of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale Riquet with the Tuft. We follow the story of the two who we know are destined to meet, fall in love and live happily after. He is Déodat, son of a former dancer, who gives birth to him (her only child) when forty-eight and the chef at the dance school. He is very ugly but very intelligent. He manages to adapt to his ugliness and, indeed, succeeds in having a series of short-term affairs when he gets older. He takes a keen interest in birds and becomes a professional ornithologist. She is Trémière, very beautiful but not very bright. She struggles at school and her stupidity is taken for aloofness when she is older. Her one (very) brief fling gives her a negative view of the opposite sex. Both, however, do very well in their careers and are destined to meet on a TV chat show. Nothomb seems to be moving towards updated fairy tales which, as she says in an afterword, almost always have a happy ending while great literature generally does not have a happy ending. This is not great literature but it is a well-written and enjoyable tale.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Le crime du comte Neville [The Crime of Count Neville]. This is her twenty-fourth book in twenty-four years. She regularly produces a novel during the French rentrée and this one is this year’s offering. It will doubtlessly appear in English ere long. It is something of a change in approach for Nothomb in that it is a fable. It is set in the Belgian Ardennes and tells the story of the aristocratic Nevilles. (Nothomb herself is descended from Belgian aristocrats.) Henri and his beautiful and twenty-year younger wife, Alexandra, have three children. Orestes and Electra, in their twenties, are the perfect children. Sérieuse, aged seventeen, is sullen, morose and solitary. One night, Sérieuse is out wandering in the forest after midnight when she is spotted and taken in by the local clairvoyant. When Henri picks her up, the clairvoyant forecasts that he will hold a sumptuous party (which he knows, as he does so every year) and at this party, he will kill someone. Henri, who prides himself on being the perfect host, is very perturbed by this. He particularly wants to give a good party this year, as it will be the last. The Nevilles are completely broke and will have to sell the château. While he considers whom he might kill of the guests, Sérieuse makes him a proposition. He should kill her, as she is fed up with life and wants to die. It is a fairly simple fable, but, as ever with Nothomb, light-hearted, well-told and humorous.
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