Rating: 2.5 out of 3
I'm excited to be reviewing the first work by a Belgian author to be featured on mychitalka. I picked up this novel based on a recommendation that it would be an interesting and suitable book to read for an intermediate speaker of French. I must say that I much enjoyed this novel. It is diabolically unique and refreshing, and I hope to read more of Nothumb's work in the future.
Perhaps you have already heard of Madame Nothumb? She is one of the most famous contemporary francophone authors. Her biography, in fact, rivals the 'out there' subject matter of her books. Northumb was born in Etterbeek to diplomat parents. She grew up in Japan and...in a case of life imitating art.... her first novel "L'Hygiene de l'Assassin" was (partially?) based on her childhood experiences. As a child, she and her older sister feared growing up, puberty and all that that entailed to the point where they starved themselves for a period of time. When they both began eating again, both sisters developed a real 'hunger' for writing. The rest is history...
In truth, no one can fault Nothumb for a lack of originality. "L'Hygiene de l'Assassin" is about as strange and unorthodox a novel as you can get your hands on these days. It is about a reclusive, obese, terminally ill Nobel prize winning author who decides to grant a select group of journalists interviews (one by one) before his death. Now in the beginning, the novel seems to have a rather simple plot; the crabby, but wily old author has his fun with each of the journalists (none of whom are his match or have even read his works!). He mocks them, belittles them and sends them away in various states of physical or mental distress. However, things take a far more interesting (and bizarre) turn when the author finally meets with the last journalist. This journalist has done her homework. She has actually read all of the author's 29 books but in addition to that...she has unearthed the long buried sinister past of the author.
This journalist's interview with the author is filled with revelations; for the reader, the author and even for the journalist- as she realizes that she is to assume a far greater role in the life of the author than she anticipated.
And so what is the book about? Let me take a stab at this? Perhaps the fact that authors and creative geniuses, in Northumb's mind, are a race apart. They live in a different dimension and under different (aesthetic and moral) laws than the normal populace. There is of course a great beauty and a burden to this that can not easily be understood.
I suggest reading this novel and arriving at your own conclusion to what the book is about. It wouldn't be too hard of a read in the French for an intermediate to advanced French speaker. The book is available in English as well. Much recommended.
2.5 out of 3
NEXT UP: mychitalka travels the world with: 1) another tome on Soviet collectivization; 2) Beliy's "Petersburg" (still working my way through...) 3) a Norwegian bestseller; and 4) the first book by a Rwandan author to be featured on the blog