Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hygiene and the AssassinHygiene and the Assassin by Amélie Nothomb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amelie Nothomb's "Hygiene and the Assassin" is a delightfully demented short novel. While not a literary masterpiece, it is captivating, amusing, and often hilarious. One can detect an air of youthful conviction of the right and the wrong (Ms. Nothomb was barely 25 when the book was published), but the author's audacity in constructing the crazy plot makes up for the faults.

A great writer, Nobel Prize winner, Pretextat Tach, suffers from a rare form of cancer and is given two months to live. Several journalists attempt to interview the old, obese, disgusting, arrogant misanthrope and misogynist, but one after another fail. It is Nina who finally succeeds. She gets a full interview and what an interview it is! Nina happens to be Mr. Tach's equal in spewing intellectually brilliant garbage, and they verbally spar for about 100 pages. Yet, among all this "drivel worthy of a baroque adolescent" one can find pearls of wisdom and sharp observations of failed human nature.

The two things I like most about "Hygiene and the Assassin" are the self-referentiality of the text and the connections to Ms. Nothomb's well-known "childhood novels". Nina accuses Mr. Tach of "filling pages with drivel", yet that's precisely what Ms. Nothomb does in the novel. And that's cool. Also, using Mr. Tach as her proxy, she proposes the thesis that adults are failed children, and that the only worthy period in life is the pre-adolescence. One needs to read the beautiful "Loving Sabotage" and also "The Character of Rain" to appreciate the reference.

I bet Ms. Nothomb had great fun writing the book. I have had great fun reading it.

Four stars.

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