03 April 2012

Tokyo Fiancée, by Amélie Nothomb

I don't receive comments on this blog all that often, and when I do, they're usually pretty negative, but once in awhile I get very lucky and someone leaves one with a book recommendation. That's how I first came to read Nothomb - a friend of mine recommended her. I loved Fear and Trembling, so when I found myself in a bookstore again, I headed for the Ns to see if I could find The Color of Rain. It wasn't available, so I bought Tokyo Fiancée instead, and managed to wait all of two days before reading it. It's not quite as fantastic as Fear and Trembling, but it's pretty wonderful nonetheless.

Nothomb writes with a wonderfully dry, witty style that is both moving and hilarious. She describes Japanese culture in a fond way that manages to be loving without smoothing over how incredibly alien it occasionally seems. It's an impressive feat, and a very appealing one. I knew that the Japanese worshipped Sartre, and found him terribly exotic: to feel nauseous upon contemplating a pebble polished by the sea was so contrary to prevailing Japanese attitudes, and something so very strange could not fail to fascinate. I find sentences like this utterly charming and very, very funny. If you don't, you probably won't like this book.

This book is the chronicle of a love affair. An amiable, sweet, and really touching portrayal of a non-typical cross-cultural relationship. I will not go into detail so as to avoid spoilers, but overall, it's a really original and interesting depiction of love. Not at all cliche, often totally unfamiliar yet somehow recognizable. It reminded me somewhat of Tove Jansson's Fair Play, in that, if you're used to saccharine, arm and fuzzy depictions of love, this one can seem harsh or cold. One rarely encounters stories of love where a person's desire for independence or solitude doesn't come across as neurotic or pathological.

Overall, a wonderful read. As soon as I get to another US bookstore, I'll once again be hedging straight to the Ns.

1 comment:

Camilleon said...

Yay! I'm so glad you read it! What I came away with:

1) I realized I might not actually like Amélie Nothomb as a (real) person. Usually, I have this assumption that I would totally like the author of the book I'm reading if I ever met them, and I realized that this probably wouldn't be the case if I ever met Ms. Nothomb. She seems somewhat vain, self-centered and even selfish. Well, duh? Maybe that's a given with a lot of writers of semi-autobiographical novels? Nevertheless, I love reading her work!

2) The title in French is completely different than the one in English: "Ni d'Ève, ni d'Adam" ("Of neither Eve, nor Adam"). I find this title quite odd and can only assume that some of the novel's meaning was lost on me.

Just so you know, the title of the other novel I recommended is "The Character of Rain" (not color). Can't wait to read your review of it!