I had heard of Amélie Nothomb but had never gotten around to reading anything by her. Till I picked up her latest novella, “Life Form” and was blown away by its sheer magnificence and the author’s story-telling capacity. “Life Form” is one of those books which has it all – the surreal manner, the delicate balance of sensitivity and emotional quotient, the plot, the space given to the words to breathe and a landscape that is as vast as a story deserves.
“Life Form” is a fictional work. I had to say it because of what is going to come. It is a book about correspondence – between an American soldier, Melvin Mapple, who is a fan of Nothomb’s works and the author. This is however not where the plot ends. This is where I would think the plot begins. The letters get exchanged and the author gets to know more about Melvin’s life. Of how he was recruited in the army, how he got posted for the Iraq war and how he can barely fit into his XXXXL clothes. At the same time, she also begins to understand how he has named his fat self, “Scheherazade”, just so his flesh can keep the loneliness at war at bay. This is also where the plot does not end. There is more to come.
While getting to know Melvin, the author talks to him about her life, her creative writing process, her hopes and fears and they both get to know each other. During the course of getting to know one another, Nothomb discovers something bizarre about Melvin, which is not believable and this is where it actually begins.
After reading, “Life Form” I was wondering why I hadn’t read anything by Nothomb earlier. The writing takes you by surprise when you least expect it to and at the same you are left wanting more. The twists and turns are not so many and at the same the writing is terrific. Nothomb creates an atmosphere of war and its effects brilliantly and at the same time manages to bring out the author’s side, which according to me not many people have managed that well.
Nothomb blends fact (only the life of an author) and fiction with such ease, that the book reads how it is meant to – like a fictional work with great characters and voices. The book is taut and leaves no scope for the reader to get bored. “Life Form” is short, to the point and thrilling at the same time. A must read.