Nothomb, Amélie 1967–
Nothomb, Amélie 1967–
PERSONAL: Born August 13, 1967, in Kobe, Japan; daughter of Patrick (a Belgian ambassador) and Daniéle (Scheyven) Nothomb; married. Education: Brussels University, graduated, 1988; also attended the Free University of Brussels.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Editions Albin Michel, 22 rue Huyghens, 75014, Paris, France.
CAREER: Writer and novelist. During early career, worked as a translator in Japan.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grand Prix du roman, French Academy, 1999, for Stupeur et tremblement; Prix Littéraire de la Vocation (Paris, France) and Prix Alain Fournier (Brussels), both for Hygiène de l'assassin.
Hygienène de l'assassin, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1992.
Le Sabotage amoureux, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1993, translated by Andrew Wilson as Loving Sabotage, New Directions (New York, NY), 2000.
Les Combustibles, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1994.
Les Catilinaires, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1995, translated by Carol Volk as The Stranger Next Door, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Péplum, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1996.
Attentat, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1997.
Mercure, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1998.
Stupeur et tremblement, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1999, translated as Fear and Trembling, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2001.
Metaphysique des tubes, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2000, translated as The Character of Rain, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
Cosmetique de l'ennemi, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2001.
Robert des noms propres (novel), Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2002, translated by Shaun Whiteside as The Book of Proper Names, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2004.
Antechrista (novel), Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2003, translated by Shaun Whiteside as Antichrista, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2005.
Biographie de la faim, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2004.
Acide Sulfurique (novel), Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2005.
Contributor to books, including En quiête du livre: vers une bibliothéque idéal, Editions Paroles d'Aube, 1997. Author's works have been translated into fourteen languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Hygiène de l'assassin was adapted as a play and an opera; Fear and Trembling was adapted for a French and Japanese-language film, written and directed by Alain Corneau, for Cinema Guild; Le Sabotage amoureux is scheduled to be adapted to film in 2007.
SIDELIGHTS: The daughter of a Belgian diplomat, Amélie Nothomb was born in Kobe, Japan, spending her early life in Japan and also China, New York City, Bangladesh, Laos, and Burma. She then attended Brussels University before returning to Tokyo, where she worked as an interpreter. Nothomb is the author of several novels. In Time International, a writer summed up her style as "straightforward," noting: "Nothomb's variously themed novels all revolve around weird worlds and characters representing the often hostile and grotesque natures lurking beneath real life." The critic commented that although Nothomb's novels have won critical attention, "her bizarre personality has made her a pop culture star." Nothomb, who has suffered from anorexia, told the writer that she likes rotting fruits and vegetables, and that each day she drinks large quantities of strong black tea, which forces her to vomit periodically. The author told Dick Leonard in Europe: "I estimate that I write about 3.7 novels a year, but only one of them is worth publishing." Leonard noted that although her novels are short, "easy to read," and witty, "many of her characters are deeply unpleasant, and she has a special fascination for obesity and for eating disorders, of which she has had personal experience."
Nothomb's first published novel, Hygiène de l'assassin, appeared in 1992 and was so successful that it sold one hundred thousand copies, was adapted as a play and an opera, and was translated into several languages. She was surprised by this success, and told Leonard: "I was convinced it would sell seven copies maximum, ten if my aunts bought it."
In Loving Sabotage Nothomb tells the story of non-Chinese children whose parents worked in Peking in the 1970s. The unnamed narrator begins describing her life at age seven, when she fell in love with a seven-year-old Italian girl, Elena, who does not return her affection. Elena is more interested in a little boy named Fabrice. The story goes on to describe how children, instead of becoming allies, form groups and fight against each other: the narrator and her allies first fight the East German children, then the Nepalese children of other diplomats.
The Stranger Next Door features Emile Hazel, a high-school Greek and Latin teacher who retires at age sixty-five. He and his wife of forty-three years, Juliette, retire to the French countryside, but their blissful solitude and togetherness is interrupted by constant visits from their only neighbor, an intrusive doctor. Although the visits anger Emile, he is too polite to tell the doctor not to visit. Emile and his wife, curious to see who would marry this odd and annoying man, invite the doctor and his wife, Bernadette, for dinner. Although Bernadette is repulsive, Emile and Juliette feel sorry for her because the doctor is cruel to her. In the New York Times Book Review, Janet Kaye wrote that the book "both disturbs and amuses." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the book displays "psychological astuteness and considerable craftsmanship."
Fear and Trembling describes the narrator's job with a traditional Japanese import-export firm, and her culture shock as she is progressively demoted as punishment for her ignorance, until she ends up as a lavatory attendant. In Library Journal Lisa Rohrbaugh described the book as "an utterly charming, humorous tale of East meets West."
In a profile of Nothomb in WWD, Chantal Goupil commented that Nothomb's "stories plunge readers into a surprising universe and her writing style is simple and naively elegant. In particular, Nothomb excels in analyzing the darker side of human behavior." But Goupil also noted that throughout her works, Nothomb "maintains a sense of humor and irony that are rare in current French literature." In The Character of Rain Nothomb creates just such a work in her fictionalized autobiography from birth to age five. She describes how her earliest days were involved merely with the basic functions of living, but relates how a taste for chocolate allowed her consciousness to develop and her awareness to expand. Among the realizations achieved from this new awareness was the knowledge that her days of being lavishly attended to would eventually end. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "witty and original."
The protagonist of The Book of Proper Names is a young girl named Plectrude whose mother, Lucette, selected her name from a reference book, hoping that it would have talismanic qualities of protection for her child. Certainly it does not serve to help Lucette, as she killed Plectrude's father before the baby was born and committed suicide shortly after the child's birth. As she grew, Plectrude's life seemed to have the almost fairy tale-like quality that her mother had hoped for, with the young girl maturing into a dancer possessing considerable talent. However, when she enters the rigorous Paris Opera Ballet School at age thirteen, the harsh realities of life threaten and she finds her magical childhood quickly receding as she faces eating disorders, a harsh academic program, and blurred meanings of those things she once took for granted. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented favorably on the novel's "charmingly concise prose," and Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson named it a "mind-blowing little fable."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2001, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Fear and Trembling, p. 1117; July, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Book of Proper Names, p. 1819.
Europe, March, 2000, Dick Leonard, "Nothomb Builds an Audience," p. 38.
French Review, March, 1997, Janet T. Letts, review of Les Catilinaires, p. 619; April, 1998, Yolande Helm, review of Péplum, p. 879.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1997, review of The Stranger Next Door, p. 1478; January 15, 2001, review of Fear and Trembling, p. 80; March 15, 2002, review of The Character of Rain, p. 368.
Library Journal, October 15, 1997, Francisco Goldsmith, review of The Stranger Next Door, p. 94; February 1, 2001, Lisa Rohrbaugh, review of Fear and Trembling, p. 126.
New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1998, Janet Kaye, "Parbleu! It's Them Again!," p. 22; March 25, 2001, Susan Chira, "Lost in Translation," p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, October 27, 1997, review of The Stranger Next Door, p. 51; October 5, 2000, review of Loving Sabotage, p. 59; January 15, 2001, review of Fear and Trembling, p. 52; July 5, 2004, review of The Book of Proper Names, p. 39.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2001, Alan Tinkler, review of Loving Sabotage, p. 170.
Time International, January 1, 2001, "Amélie Nothomb: 33, Belgian Author," p. 100.
Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2001, Merle Rubin, review of Fear and Trembling, p. W8.
WWD, October 7, 2002, Chantal Goupil, "The Write Stuff," biography of Amélie Nothomb, p. 26.
Belgium Federal Portal, http://www.belgium.be/eportal/ (May 8, 2006), biography of Amélie Nothomb.
Contemporary Women Writing in French Web site, http://igrs.sas.ac.uk/CWWF/ (May 8, 2006), biography of Amélie Nothomb.