Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb

Title: Tokyo Fiancee

Author: Amelie Nothomb


Who Should Read It? People interested in French or Japanese culture that are able to get past ridiculously horrible protagonists. Or those that have read and enjoyed Amelie Nothomb's other works.

What I Have to Say:
Amelie Nothomb is some weird mixture of French and Belgian and Japanese that I still don't quite understand. And my attempts at understanding left me occasionally confused. Despite each of her works being separated memoirs, each of which can supposedly be read not in conjunction with the others, I feel like, if I wanted to better understand this book, I should have read some of her other works, which she constantly referenced, first. She seemed to just assume, in any case, that I knew all of these things about her that I didn't know.

This would have been okay, except that her simplistic writing style was, in a weird way, captivating, and it left me feeling exceedingly curious. I WANTED to know more about her. Her story of living in Japan and her relationship with a somewhat eccentric Japanese man (well, eccentric, from what I know, for a Japanese man) was fascinating. I loved Amelie and Rinri together; I loved the way their relationship advanced in what she described as a "typical Japanese fashion." I really felt like I understood what it would be like for a westerner to date a Japanese man in Japan. I also loved the brief glimpse I got of what it must be like for a Westerner to live in Japan, and I can only hope that my stay here will be as full of exciting things as hers was.

Unfortunately, my love of all of these things left me absolutely HATING her by the end of the book. Hating her for the type of person she is and some of the things she did. Funny story: the day after I finished this book, I met up with a friend at a cafe in Paris, and I just do happened to end up at a table RIGHT NEXT TO Amelie Nothomb. And it was very difficult to me to conceal my disgust with her. I literally had to stop myself from getting up and asking her "HOW DARE YOU!" or telling her how disgusted I felt with her after reading her book. She was so egotistical, spoiled, ridiculous, and self-centered that it was a wonder anyone could manage to fall in love with her.

It was therefore hard for me to enjoy the book as a whole, even though the writing style was quite lovely and some of the content was brilliant and extraordinarily honest. Because I sort of hated her, the protagonist. And yet it was at the same time compelling enough that I want to go back and read her previous works. To give her the opportunity to redeem herself in my eyes.

Summary: A darling of the French literary scene, Nothomb delivers a complex story of first love set in late 1980s and early 90s Tokyo. Amélie is a 21-year-old Belgian student studying Japanese in Tokyo when she begins tutoring Rinri, a sweet, shy and wealthy 20-year-old, in French. The relationship quickly evolves into a friendship and, soon after that, into romance. Rinri is a young soul who is easily swept up in his love for Amélie, and his charm is undeniable as he courts her, but Amélie wrestles with the classic situation: she loves spending time with Rinri, but she doesnt love him, and she cannot deny her need for independence. Nothomb thankfully forgoes the standard approach to passion and unrequited love, leading the reader to hope the adorable couple dont get married and instead find their own separate happiness. Nicely told, intimate and honest, the book depicts perfectly a nontraditional romance.

Cover Story: I've put the French cover here because I actually read this book in French. The French title, Ni d'Adam, Ni d'Eve, translated From neither Adam nor Eve, does not, in my opinion, fit this book at all. The American title suits it much better. As does the American cover. I absolutely adore the French cover, but it has nothing to do with the book. There is nothing in this book that even remotely lives up to the coolness of the cover.


Anonymous said...

How disappointing! I'd never heard of the book before, but it sounds like it could have been very interesting. I'm sorry it had too much getting in the way of that.

Charlotte said...

Hey Brizmus ! Long time no comment, so sorry ! I still haven't tried reading Nothomb's books, I have some kind of blocage que je n'arrive pas à surmonter. I will some day. Maybe. Thanks for the honest review. It kind of fits with the image I have of her books.

I'm so thrilled that your life in Japan is so exciting, I'm really happy for you. I miss your French Fridays though, I'm all alone now... Boohoo ! Did you get my email by the way ? ;)

Simcha said...

I love memoirs and the concept of this one sounds really interesting, though if the author herself is so irritating then I doubt I would enjoy the book any more than you did. We actually had a guest over once, and American who was married to a Japanese man (she had a very interesting story about how they kept running into each other, both in America and Japan) and she was telling us about the culture differences and how her new mother-in-law had to teach her how to properly slice an apple for guests (hence my Twitter question), how to properly wipe down a table and how wet laundry should be hung up. Ever since then I have been fascinated with the Japanese culture.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Bummer. Character love is so essential.

I love how Japan has changed you and given you perspective.

Aarti said...

This review made me laugh really hard right at the start. Thanks for that :-) I think I will skip this.

vvb32 reads said...

ewww. too bad it wasn't so good. the cover is awesome though.

Alessandra said...

Wow, you met Amelie Nothomb? Really?! *is excited* Too bad you didn't like this book, and I totally agree that her books are often hard to figure out.

Maybe you can try again with Metaphysique des Tubes - which is a kind of fictionalized autobiograpy of her early childhood in Japan. I'm no expert on Japanese culture, but I found her descriptions quite fascinating.

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