Zoïle was scarred at an early age by a realization that sharing an aesthetic experience was little more than an invitation to ridicule. He took the cue to reject the pull of mediocracy, by developing an extremely individualist, selfish approach to life. He would not qualify as a social success, but as he was to be the only measure to himself, to remain untouchable from the leveling standards of society. In his simple life, he meets the woman of his dreams – a beauty who sacrifices her every living moment to a dysfunctional woman who doubles as a literary oracle. His love, in its physical expression, is thwarted by the constant presence of the vile but illuminated literary spirit. As his frustration mounts, he knows that it will end with a bang.
I will lift out one aspect of the book for consideration. In this year’s novel, it is as if Amelie Nothomb has returned from a high school reunion with a fierce determination not to be like the others. Irrespective of which of her school reunions she went to, there is little chance of that. Her writing is as fluent and creative as ever, and her characters as off the wall as they can get. Bizarrely though, she seems to feel that she has to justify herself. She argues for praise of qualities which make someone unique and the ability to recognizing talent or exceptional qualities in others too, irrespective of whether it “pays the rent” or not. It is as if she had been bombarded with questions as to whether or not she is earning enough with her strange novels.
In a society where recognition and pay check are increasingly being seen as the same thing, she rebels. It is as if she feels she does not receive enough recognition for her work herself, or that it is being brushed over. As in a wave of self-mockery, her editor even put Nothomb’s Harcourt picture on the cover, which, for those who do not know the studio, is a sort of photographic wax museum. If that is still not enough to take her seriously, she argues that our favourite passages should be copied, to unleash the power of the words. In case you are wondering how these words are going to be unleashed, she compares the action of copying literature to sheet music, as having more impact when it is played than when it is read (p128). I do not share the view of writing over reading for a superior literary experience, but her point is clear: she wants to be read with care.
After having soaked up the pretension, a reader can not help but feel a little tricked by the simplicity of the metaphor of this solitary seducer’s end. It is as if we are playing hopscotch in the streets of Paris with the two compulsively innocent women, while it is raining proverbial elephants. But then again, it is a pleasure to read Amelie Nothomb, and, it has to be said, she did surprise us once again with this literary road trip.