Hygiene and the Assassin

Europa, dist. by Penguin. Nov. 2010. c.176p. tr. from French by Alison Anderson. ISBN 9781933372778. pap. $15. F
Noble Prize winner Pretextat Tach—the world's most famous living author—is dying of a rare form of cancer and decides to break from his reclusive life by allowing five journalists to interview him in his dismal apartment. The first four are men who quickly run out of the building whimpering, dumbfounded, and in a condition that only extreme amounts of alcohol can remedy. The fifth, Nina, succeeds where her colleagues fail by keeping control of the conversation and demanding an apology from Tach for his insufferable, hateful comments. Throughout the interview, many topics are combatively discussed: religion, love, family, misogyny, literature, and murder. Digging into archival records, Nina confronts Tach with a secret kept by him for some 65 years, exposing a horror that will make readers shudder. This secret is not only at the core of Tach's literary oeuvre but also his very essence. Nothomb's first published work (1992), this novel was made into an opera adapted by Daniel Schell in 1995, a movie starring Jean Yanne in 1999, and, here debuts in English with a brilliant translation.
VERDICT Multiple prize winner Nothomb's work will surely keep readers dazzled, mystified, and entertained. Written in fantastically spare but precise prose, it will stand for decades to come.
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