From France: The life of an exceptional woman is cursed and blessed from the start by her mother's failures.
This slim novel by Nothomb, a popular and prolific Belgian author who resides in Paris, has been translated by Anderson, who translated The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and seems poised to take off for the same reasons that novel did—elegant writing, fairy-tale qualities, psychological insight, a toothsome plot, and an intoxicating Frenchness—or perhaps in this case, Belgian-ness. First, we meet Marie. "Tall, with a good figure, her face lit with a blond radiance...Marie was nineteen and her time had come. She could sense that an extraordinary destiny awaited her." Marie easily snags the attention of the best-looking boy in town, and "when the girls looked at her their painful envy turned to hatred, and she thrilled to the pleasure of their gaze." This self-regard and competitiveness become quite problematic as Marie's actual, nonextraordinary destiny unfolds: pregnancy, early marriage, and motherhood in a dull, small town. Nothing makes her happy, not her perfect wedding or her pretty town house or her adorable baby girl. "You are the loveliest little girl I've ever seen," says her husband to their newborn, and "Marie's heart froze." The baby, named Diane, is the star of this story. She is shaped by her mother's coldness and jealousy in ways that are far from predictable. The remainder of the novel tracks Diane’s relationships with the other females in her life: her grandmother, a sister, a best friend, and, most importantly, a mentor she meets in medical school and that woman's daughter. Nothomb has published a book a year since 1992; though quite a few are available in English, she is still something of an unknown. Perhaps this new novel will bring her the recognition here that she has abroad.
This razor-sharp morality tale can be read in an afternoon but contains a lifetime of wisdom about how we cope with the weaknesses of those closest to us.