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PÉTRONILLE

It’s puzzling what Nothomb’s purpose was with this novel, but it feels like such a hasty job that one isn’t tempted to spend...

In the tradition of novels about intense, artistic female friendships, Nothomb's light-hearted latest features flamboyant characters and copious drinking of champagne.

Nothomb (Hygiene and the Assassin, 2010, etc.) has published more than 20 other novels, which is startling because this one reads like a fledgling effort. The writing feels cursory, and the story doesn’t acquire even the depth needed to be a good farce. The novel (or novella—it’s only 128 pages) is narrated by a writer, also named Amélie Nothomb, with a devotion to drinking bubbly. There’s a pleasant description of her introduction to it—“I looked into the darkest place and I saw, and heard, jewels. Their multiple fragments tinkled with precious gems, with gold and silver”—but after that poetic start, Nothomb’s lyricism seems exhausted. At a reading, the narrator is approached by Pétronille, a sexually ambiguous waif who greatly intrigues her. When she deduces that Pétronille likes to drink, the two quickly develop a friendship, with the older Amélie both revered and mocked by her irreverent wild-child friend. This is a promising setup but nothing interesting—little conflict, seemingly no intimacy—develops between them. And Nothomb’s flat writing doesn’t create any buoyancy for her story. For instance, Amélie goes to London to interview the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and, after an unhappy experience with her, invites Pétronille to join her. The women visit the British Museum, and Nothomb writes: “We agreed to meet in Mesopotamia at noon. It’s not every day you can schedule a meeting in such a place.” The second sentence dulls the lightness of the first and is characteristic of a novel that seems to state the obvious at every turn. From a skiing trip in the Alps to a crisis where Pétronille resents her own status as a minor author, nothing is rendered with either enough wit or depth to be entertaining.

It’s puzzling what Nothomb’s purpose was with this novel, but it feels like such a hasty job that one isn’t tempted to spend much time figuring it out.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60945-290-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

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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