More Amelie Nothomb!

Posted: July 20, 2006 in An Author You May Not Know


Pardon me while I rant again about this writer, but she’s really exceptional and I just love her books. The downside is she’s written only nine, and I’ve already read four of them. The upside is she’s been producing bestselling novels in Europe at the rate of one per year, so assuming she continues that pattern I should be able to survive that awful feeling of withdrawal once you’ve finished all the books by an author you admire.

The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb

First off, must correct a grievous error I keep making. Amelie Nothomb is NOT FRENCH! She was born to Belgian parents while living in Japan. She speaks French, it’s true, along with at least a couple of other languages, but she’s actually Belgian if one takes her parentage into account.

Alright, that’s out of the way and I feel better… Just please excuse if you find this error here, or anywhere, in future.

Here’s a link for an article about Amelie Nothomb published just today in the Independent. What an intriguing person she is. Intriguing in an eccentric/bordering on neurotic sort of way, just this side of nutty, that is. She seems to have a certain Holly Golightly character, mais non? No wonder she writes the way she does, and long may she continue.

This latest Nothomb read is probably my favorite so far. I’m not sure how she did it, but she managed to make this tale of incredibly obnoxious neighbors positively chilling. It’s not Stephen King chilling, but still it manages to really give one a turn. It will make you look at your neighbors in an entirely different way, at the very least.

I think this Amazon review captures it well:

From Library Journal

A retired high school teacher and his wife buy a house in the country that appeals to them as the house for their golden years. They have been deeply in love since early childhood and look on each other not only as spouse but as each other’s child and parent, heart and soul. This should-be idyllic scene is rent by the oppressor, in this darkly comic case an obese, irascible, grimly taciturn neighbor who appears at their door daily for a two-hour “visit.” Husband and wife try a variety of coping strategies as the infernal visitations accumulate: gallantry, absurdity, rudeness. All is recounted with a straightforward grace that provides readers with a front-row seat at this black comedy of modern manners. This is the first of the young and already prolific author’s books to appear in the United States. Readers will eagerly anticipate more.?Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The book has a sort of Kafkaesque feel, or a surreal quality that’s both menacing and entirely ridiculous, at the same time. You ask yourself why this couple doesn’t just eject the man, but they do make an effort only to be foiled time after time, mostly by their own sense of moral decency. It’s really a fascinating psychological portrait, and I’d recommend this most highly of all Nothomb’s works I’ve read so far. Putting it simply: very good stuff!


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