News from the books: reviews of the Mask and the Feather

In her 30th and all-new novel, Amélie Nothomb brings her father, Patrick Nothomb, back to life in the first person, in a biographical novel in the form of a tale, without ever giving up her sense of fiction. Critics of the Mask hail “a dazzling book” and “a great writer”.

“This is undoubtedly the most personal novel of Amélie Nothomb, whose father Patrick Nothomb, a Belgian diplomat, died on March 17, 2020, the first day of the first confinement. He did not die of the coronavirus, but of a ruptured aneurysm. This father Amélie Nothomb brings it back to life, tells of his childhood as a penniless aristocrat, baron by trade, under the implacable authority of the grandfather, Pierre Nothomb, a rather monstrous nationalist Catholic poet who prevented his children and little children to eat. The same one who condemned the marriage of his son to a woman because she was not from his social background. And then, above all, the beginnings in the career in Congo, the diplomatic beginnings and the debut of the young consul in Kisangani, then Stanleyville where he was confronted, in 1964, with a terrible hostage-taking, almost 1,500 Western hostages, mainly Belgian, and that he had to negotiate with the People’s Liberation Army before the Belgian parachutists intervene. will be threatened by a firing squad opens. A year later, she did neither too beautiful nor a eulogy of her father. She did an ‘I am Patrick’. The book ends before his own birth “.

FB: “She knows how to renew herself. She stays in her vein since it is a family tale where she transforms the life of her father. There is a side ‘the glory of my father’.

It is really the opposite of Christine Angot. She was not deprived of love. His father is there on every page.

It is very very beautiful! She puts herself in the first person in the shoes of her father. There are funny phrases. As with the castle in the Ardennes of the family, it was not ‘a strong castle, but rather a weak castle’… That I really liked. And then also the description of the snow (‘The forest supported such a weight of whiteness that certain trees lowered their arms’).

As for the story of the shooting and the Stanleyville hostage-taking, I didn’t know it. What amazes me is that someone whose father has been through this is waiting 30 pounds to say it. “

NK: “For once, I adored Amélie Nothomb. Each time, I’m a little embarrassed… I’m talking about her strawberries… I’m talking about her look, that kind of crop around her neck, very 18th century that she wants to put.

I don’t find this book at all melancholy. I find him cheerful, funny. We discover this penniless aristocracy. We fall into a fairytale castle, helped by his use of hilarious formulas because they are totally obsolete, but an extremely elegant phrasing “.

It’s completely bloated to write your father’s life in first person. When asked the question, she says that when she was little, she was asked what her name was and answered ‘I’m Patrick’.

It is also a fascinating book because we find the roots of Amélie Nothomb’s extraordinary personality. We understand her delusional relationship to food, she who wrote a book called “Biography of Hunger”, since her father was sent to the Nothombs, where the children had nothing to eat. The older ones were served first, then, as the dish was emptied, the small children had absolutely nothing to eat. A very Darwinian education.

We also discover the extraordinary courtesy and generosity of Amélie Nothomb, who has a completely unique relationship to adversity and wickedness. That of his father. I wondered why this way she wrote a book a year – it’s the 30th in thirty years – was not born out of this episode linked to her father (during this hostage-taking of which she was said for four months, every morning, that he was going to die when he repelled death by words telling stories). I wondered if there wasn’t something “Scheherazade Nothomb” in the way he wrote that came from there? “

AV: “This is not Amélie Nothomb’s first autobiographical book, but if she is best known for her art of fiction, she is a great storyteller.

When I read the first chapter, I am not yet aware of the subject of the book. It starts off like a fiction with a guy who is going to be shot and we think to ourselves how he’s going to get out of it. Then, second chapter, we come across the name of Nothomb and we understand that it is a book about his father.

What is great at first is that she only tells two episodes in her father’s life, and even though it’s a kind of mourning for the father, she doesn’t try to tell the whole story of her father. his father in the first place. The art of the novelist is there “.

It is a true, biographical book which is always a fiction. It is the tour de force of Amélie Nothomb, who is a great writer.

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