Tag Archives: une forme de vie

Top Ten Tuesday

As hosted by The Broke and Bookish

Truth be told, I’m not a very fast reader… These are a list of books I can read in one sitting and become very grumpy when forced to leave to do things like go to university or make more tea.

1) Wicca/ Sweep Series – Cate Tiernan.
This was my favourite book series back when I was in school. It’s a YA series set in theUS. There is a lot of magic, romance and snappy dialogue in it. Plus the heroine isn’t a pushover.

2) Bodas de Sangre – Federico García Lorca.
OK, so it’s not a book but a play… it’s also a brilliant read with passion and heartbreak flying off the page. ‘No quiero contigo cama ni cena y no hay minutodel día que estar contigo no quiera’.

3) American Gods – Neil Gaiman.
Shhh, I’ve not read this one yet, but it’s on my kindle and its siren-song is growing stronger with every heartbeat…

4) Our Lady of Darkness – Peter Tremayne.
Let’s face it; nothing beats historical fiction that’s written by an expert in a) that period and b) human nature. The Sister Fidelma Series (which is the one this book comes from) gives us a brilliant insight into 7th centuryIreland whilst delivering the sort of story anyone who isn’t so interested in the ‘historical’ part of ‘historical fiction’ will be glued to.

5) The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende.
Parts of it are very hard to read without weeping but it’s still my favourite of all the adult Magical Realism novels I’ve read. And it’s set in Chile.

6) Clockwork Angel – Cassandra Clare.
My wonderful friend who’s recommended most of my favourite sci-fi and fantasy novels gave me this for my 21st birthday. I read it in a day and… darn, I want to read it again.

7) I Capture The Castle- Dodie Smith.
Forget 101 Dalmations, it’s all about I Capture the Castle. Really.

8) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightTime – Mark Haddon
Another book I can’t put down as soon as I’ve started reading it. The story was as close to perfect as they get.

9) L’Amant – Margaret Duras.
I’m going to have to read this in a day for class but I’m looking forward to it (we had to translate an extract into Spanish and it looked very well written).

10) Une Forme de Vie – Amélie Nothomb
To read a review, click here. I love love love her way of writing.


Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Books


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{Review} A Way of life (Une Forme de Vie)- Amelie Nothomb

In the land of quirky literature, it is sometimes difficult for a book to garner enough praise to gain it anything but the dubious honour of a loyal cult following. If her position in the French book charts is anything to go by, Amélie Nothomb’s work definitely appeals to a growing number of readers.

And it is definitely surreal. Prior to winning the ‘Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française’ in 1999 for her fierce Fear and Trembling, she and her work were  continually derided by critics who tended to view her work as flights of fantasy that were best left unread.

The question is this: is Nothomb still able to deliver the unique experience that endeared her to her judges over a decade ago?

‘This morning, I received a different kind of letter.’
One morning, Nothomb receives a letter from one of her readers, an American soldier called Melvin Mapple, who is fighting in Iraq. Horrified by the endless violence around him, he takes comfort in over-eating. Over-eating until his fat starts to suffocate him and he can barely fit into XXXXL clothes. Disgusted with himself, but unable to control his eating, he takes his mind off his ever-growing bulk by naming it Scheherazade and pretending that he is not alone at night with his flesh.

Although initially repulsed, Nothomb is fascinated and begins exchanging letters in earnest with Mapple.

Nothomb carefully unravelled the story from the start, developing the main characters gradually. Just fast enough to keep the story going, but not so fast as to be unrealistic. By the time Mapple started to get into the details of his life, I was hooked.

Whilst Nothomb is the narrator and plays a significant role in the novel, it is the character, Mapple’s story-telling abilities that come to the fore. The first clue we have as to this is his naming of his excess weight after the story-telling wife in Arabian Nights. For every instance that Nothomb’s character sits and tangentially contemplates her life and woes, Mapple’s gets to the heart of the issue he wishes to address in his letter.

And Mapple chooses his subjects carefully. His first letter uses strong, abrupt language to describe the war in Iraq. In later letters, he uses more nuanced language to write about his opinion of the invasion. But this criticism forms only a small part of his letters: his main focus is his weight. His size obsesses him, fascinates him, disgusts him at times and alienates him from a vast number of people, especially his slim colleagues.

In the army canteen, they mock him and his clinically obese colleagues.

‘So what did you do in the war apart from eat?’ they jeer.

They look down on the obese as undisciplined grotesques who pad themselves out with fat to make up for all manner of (supposed) deficiencies.

 Mapple writes about these daily struggles to Nothomb, who ‘will not judge’ [him]. He gives a voice to a group that previously suffered in silence, and this voice is usually eloquent and compelling.

 There are also moments when Mapple becomes repulsive, particularly when he starts to note down every calorie he has consumed in an attempt to make his body into a living art project.

The end of the novel spirals quickly out of control and into the surreal bleak comedy that made Fear and Trembling so exciting to read. Here, events move so rapidly compared to the middle section of the novel that I felt somewhat cheated by the neatness of the ending and how quickly it was wrapped up. Although that feeling was probably mostly due to my desire to have the two characters continue to exist and develop.

Experimenting with the epistolary style whilst interweaving her own private beliefs and experiences in asides to the reader; this is Nothomb at her best. She dwells on issues that have not received much press coverage, such as obesity in the U.S. Army and brings up issues that have been mentioned in the press. Such as her way of using surrealism and extended metaphors to lend weight to her work and, in some paradoxical way, to make it more real than it could otherwise have been.

Wild Night In: Win!

Read for the Read French Books and European Reading Challenges


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European Reading Challenge

As hosted by rosecityreader

Reading List: (Click to read the review)
1) Une Forme de Vie – Nothomb – Belgium
2) Letter from an Unknown Woman – Zweig – Austria
3) The Royal Guest Pontoppidan – Denmark
4) Catherine the Great- Portrait of a Woman – Massie – Russia
5) Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Lady of Pleasure – J. Clelane – UK

Extra Books from other European Countries:
6) The Teutonic Knights – Sienkiewicz – Poland


Posted by on March 9, 2012 in European Reading Challenge


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