It’s good to know that after this bold but flawed debut, Nothomb has gone on to a fine career.

Resourceful journalist uncovers author’s shocking secret in this Absurdist first novel that’s almost all dialogue. 

It was originally published in 1992, when Nothomb was 25; this is its first English translation. She has produced a slew of novels since then (Tokyo Fiancée, 2009, etc.) and won considerable acclaim in France. Her debut, set in 1991 as the Gulf War begins, features a Nobel prizewinner so obese he must use a wheelchair. His prototype is another grotesque glutton, the Ubu of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, an early Absurdist drama. Prétextat Tach is a sacred monster. When word gets out that the reclusive 83-year-old Nobelist is dying from a rare cancer, he is flooded with interview requests. The novel is comprised of five separate interviews. Tach is not an easy subject. He breaks off his first four sessions. One of the journalists exits vomiting. He enjoys letting insults fly, and they’re not funny (“Women are filthy slabs of meat”). This from a virgin with “a Ph.D. in masturbation.” Still, we do learn a few things. From ages 23 to 59, he wrote nonstop; after that, zilch. All he’s done for the last 24 years is eat and watch TV (just the commercials). He’s famous because he’s unread, except by “frog-readers” who absorb nothing. With the fifth journalist, everything changes. She’s the first woman. She even has a name (Nina). Unlike those lazy males, she’s done her homework, having read all 22 novels and researched his childhood. And she’s fearless, forcing Tach to apologize for an especially egregious insult and eventually spill the beans about that fateful summer day in 1925 when his beloved cousin died. By the end, it’s Nina who’s calling the shots. The dramatic ending suggests the novel might have worked better as a play, with actors breathing life into the sometimes monotonous back-and-forth.

It’s good to know that after this bold but flawed debut, Nothomb has gone on to a fine career.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-933372-77-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010



The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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