cover image Hygiene and the Assassin

Hygiene and the Assassin

Amélie Nothomb, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson, Europa (Penguin, dist.), $15 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-933372-77-8

Written nearly two decades ago, this is the first novel of the award-winning Nothomb to be translated into English (beautifully so, by Alison Anderson). The shocking, morbid tale follows Prétextat Tach, a brilliant Nobel Prize–winning author who's also an obese, embittered, reclusive, racist, and sexist old man dying of a rare form of cancer. When the world learns Tach has only months left to live, journalists scramble for an interview. Five are selected, and the first four leave their interviews humiliated by the offensive author. But then the fifth journalist arrives. Unlike the others, Nina has not only read Tach's work but also investigated his life, discovering appalling secrets the author had thought were buried forever. As Nina slowly peels Tach's life apart in front of him, his hatred for her turns to respect. Nina's arrival obliterates the book's languid pacing, bringing much more than a strong-willed persona to the proceedings. Her startling revelations lead to a dramatic and unexpected ending that illuminates why the world, if not always its English-speaking inhabitants, loves Nothomb. (Nov.)