Tag Archives: Amelie Nothomb

Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

Strike Your Heart by Amélie NothombTitle: Strike Your Heart
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454852
Genre: Mothers and Children, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction,
Pages: 135
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am still reeling under the influence of Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. It is a short novel (could have been a novella if fifteen pages shorter) but the impact it has is tremendous. What a book! What a treat! And yet, it will drain you emotionally – of almost everything you possess – of course temporarily but it will.

Do not be fooled by its size. 135 pages pack a lot more what 350 pages cannot in most novels. This one is a firecracker and how! While I was reading it initially, I thought it was modelled after Madame Bovary and some of it sure was, but it was only in the first couple of twenty pages or so and then the similarity ended.

The book is about Diane but first let’s talk about Diane’s mother Marie, the one with whom it all begins. Marie who had to marry early on and give birth to Diane when she was just twenty. There is no bond between mother and daughter. Marie can’t bear to see her daughter. Diane does what she can to gain approval of her mother. Diane’s father Olivier is merely a spectator. With two more siblings, Diane’s love for her mother doesn’t diminish, till she sees her smothering her sister Célia and decides to step back and live with her maternal grandparents (there is a lot more that happens which I cannot say for now, because spoilers).

Years pass. Diane wants to pursue her dream of becoming a cardiologist (the heart connect) and at university, she befriends an assistant professor, Olivia. Olivia is strangely similar and yet so different to Marie (which Diane realizes much later). Olivia loves power and wants to feel superior to everyone around her, including her own eight-year-old daughter, Mariel. Diane’s life is thrown into a whirlwind and how it all ends up makes for the rest of the story.

“Strike Your Heart” – the very title comes from the quote by novelist Alfred de Musset, “Strike Your Heart, that is where genius lies”. This is what inspires Diane to take up medicine, this is the core of the book – the intensity of emotions and relationships – comes all from the poor old heart.

Nothomb writes with a force of a tsunami, really. Every word and sentence is not wasted. Nothing is out of place. Nothomb is cruel and yet so gentle all at the same time. She moves at a quick pace and doesn’t manage to lose out on all the essential incidents, lives, moments and the on-goings of almost all characters. Even the ones that are hidden – Diane’s brother Nicolas, her best friend Élisabeth, her father, her grandparents, and even Olivia’s husband and daughter. Nothomb has a role to be played by everyone.

“Strike Your Heart” in so many places feels so autobiographical – like it must have happened to someone the author knew or to her. The translation by Alison Anderson is spot on. She is one of my favourite translators of French to English. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is one such example of her genius translated work. Every line seems that it was meant to be there. No syntax changes and the emotion is perfect.

Here is one of my favourite lines from the book:

“She stayed for hours at the side of an old lady who was allergic to solitude”

“Strike Your Heart” will stay with you for a long time. I know it will stay with me for sure. The bitter-sweetness, the longing, the desperation, all of the validation and not to forget jealousy which is so much at the core of this wondrous read.

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Book Review: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb

Life Form Title: Life Form
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1-60945-088-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 125
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

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.

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