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The Book of Proper Names by Amélie Nothomb

The Book of Proper Names (2002)

by Amélie Nothomb

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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444None23,413 (3.4)34
  1. 10
    The Character of Rain: A Novel by Amélie Nothomb (Mouney)
    Mouney: Quand Amélie Nothomb s'illustre et se met en scène dans ses livres, c'est tout simplement désopilant!

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» See also 34 mentions

English (10)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
'I gave myself to the snow in the garden, I lay down beneath it and built a cathedral around me, I saw it slowly raising the walls, then the vaults, I was the recumbent figure with the cathedral all to myself, then the doors closed again and death came in search of me, white and gentle at first, then black and violent, it was going to take me away when my guardian angel came to save me at the very last minute.'

I read this odd but extremely entertaining 126 page novella in two sittings and less than two hours. Born in tragic circumstances, Plectrude is adopted as a baby by her loving aunt and uncle and raised as their third child. She is an eccentric child, unpopular at school but a star in her dance classes, imaginative and driven, cursed by her off-putting name and the allure of her dancer's eyes. The end of this strange story is surreal but effective. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Mar 1, 2011 |
Plectrude, the main character of this book, knows nothing about her past. She is unaware of the fact that her mother killed her father and then killed herself. She knows nothing about her mother’s dreams that she “not be limited at all.” There is something special about Plectrude, nevertheless, and all who come to know her discover this about her. She has haunted eyes and an intriguing way. Her aunt and uncle, who raise her, feel this specialness, and allow her to do things her foster siblings are not allowed to do, to experience things her siblings are not allowed to experience. It all ends, as it must, in tragedy, though not in a way the reader might expect.The story felt very jerky to me, like playing a game of chess with character and moving the pieces suddenly across the board. The ending, though surprising, felt false and silly. ( )
  debnance | Jan 29, 2010 |
Has all the qualities that make me love Nothomb's writing: a storytelling that is deceptively simple, clear and exact. A story that is light in it's tone, but with sharp teeth hiding behind a casual smile. And a twist at the end that has the same sort of quality as a punchline in a joke (without being very funny) in that it makes everything fall into place in a completely new way, tilitng the perspective.

120 slim pages, used with a nonchalant, skipping lightness that make the pages turn themselves. I'm always left with the feeling that I've read Nothomb's books too quickly. This is no exception. A bitter bonbon of a book. ( )
1 vote GingerbreadMan | Sep 7, 2009 |
A rather disturbing and definitely absurdist sort of Ugly Duckling story.

It features Plectrude, an orphan born of a mother who murdered her father when he suggested a silly name for their baby. Her mother then committed suicide, leaving Plectrude to be brought up by her sister, who always wanted to be a ballerina. Plectrude has a difficult time at school, but then gets accepted by the ballet school, and learns to be anorexic before finally finding love and becoming a swan.

I hope that real ballet school is not al all like that in this book, where the girls are ruled by a rod of iron that make them willingly starve themselves and drive their emaciated bodies to the absolute limits of their endurance. The vicarious pleasure that Plectrude's aunt took in her charge's body was troubling.

Both serious and silly, this short little novel has plenty to say for itself, and I enjoyed it - racing through to see how Plectrude would fare in life, especially once she finds out about her mother. ( )
  gaskella | Feb 28, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Smaller isn't always better, but sometimes power is best contained in miniature. "The Book of Proper Names" is a slim volume packed with wit, imagination and cleverly spun characters. Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb, once deemed France's "literary lioness," captivates with her sharp description and delicate control over the story of Plectrude, a fairy-tale name for an otherworldly girl who doesn't quite belong.

Nothomb's portrait of the freedom of childhood and the haunting confusion of adolescence is at once charming and brutal. Plectrude's life is marked by changes in body, soul, connections to friends and parents, and her place in the world, and though she may be unlike us, she struggles and suffers for what is at the core of each of our lives.
Nothomb's darkly satirical novellas, most of them unashamedly semi-autobiographical, are bestsellers in France, and this is a disturbing, fantastical moral tale for our times. Plectrude's adolescent years as an anorexic in a brutal ballet school, where the girls exercise until they ache and are encouraged to starve themselves, are extraordinarily vivid. "Here there was no tenderness in the eyes of the adults," Nothomb writes, "merely a scalpel to slice away the last slice of childhood." With the loss of weight, Plectrude also loses feeling, until she starves herself of so much calcium that she breaks her leg and is told by the doctors that she can never dance again.

There is a poetic, elliptical quality to Nothomb's sparse, precise prose. She captures the crucial aspects of growing up with a light yet darkly comic touch; first crushes, fascination with death, the need for a destiny, the disillusionment with parents - it's all here. But so, too, is the troubled symbiosis between childhood and adolescence, and the acute agony for both mother and daughter when the child who was raised as a princess becomes an ugly disappointment as a teenager.

She has 12 novels in print around the world, so it is astonishing that British publishers haven't discovered Nothomb's perverse, wacky wit and fertile imagination before now. But for me it is her astute understanding of growing up and the damage done by mothers who see their daughters merely as extensions of themselves that has left its mark.
added by kidzdoc | editGuardian, Kate Figes (May 29, 2004)

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amélie Nothombprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Capuani, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pàmies, SergiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whiteside, ShaunTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Lucette was in her eighth hour of insomnia.
Now, when she couldn't get to the end of a simple task, the teacher contemplated her like the albatross in Baudelaire's poem: her massive intelligence prevented her from doing basic adding and subtracting. Her fellow pupils were ashamed at having so stupidly reached a solution.
She always had to be center stage, she had to surround herself with grandeur, to seek out dangers where there were none, and then to miraculously emerge from them.
And the fact that this insanity adheres to a code does nothing to diminish the deranged aspect of the whole idea of classical ballet: that it is composed of a set of techniques designed to make human flight seem possible and reasonable. Consequently, why would anyone be surprised by the grotesquely gothic context in which this happens? Why should anyone expect that such a demented project be adopted by individuals of sound mind?
It may be that within the universe of the written word is a work that will turn each person into a reader, should fate allow that to happen. What Plato says about the loving half - that other part of us floating around somewhere, and which must be found if we are not to remain incomplete until out dying day - is even more true where books are concerned.
Ten is the most sunlit point in childhood. There is no sign of adolescence visible on the horizon: nothing but mature childhood, already rich in long experience, without the feeling of loss that assaults you from the first hints of puberty onward.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571223443, Paperback)

From France's 'literary lioness' (Elle), The Book of Proper Names is the story of the hapless orphan girl, Plectrude. Raised by her aunt, and unaware of the dark secret behind her past, she is a troubled but dreamy child who is both blessed and cursed by her intoxicating eyes. Discovered to have enormous gifts as a dancer, she is accepted at Paris's most prestigious ballet school where she devotes herself to artistic perfection, until her body can take no more. In a brilliantly succinct story of haunted adolescence and lost mothers, Nothomb propels the narrative forward until Plectrude is forced to take command of her own fate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"To have an extraordinary life, Lucette believes, one must have and extraordinary name. Horrified by the pedestrian names her husband chooses for their unborn child (Tanguy if it's a boy, Joelle if it's a girl), Lucette does the only honorable thing to save her baby from such an unexceptional destiny - she kills her spouse. While in prison, Lucette gives birth to a daughter to whom she bequeaths the portentous name of an obscure saint, Plectrude, before hanging herself."."From her beginnings, Plectrude seems fated for a life like no other. Raised by an indulgent and adoring aunt, she is a dreamy child who is discovered to have enormous gifts as a dancer. Accepted at Paris's most prestigious ballet school, Plectrude devotes herself to artistic perfection, giving dance her heart and soul - and ultimately her body. As her world shatters as easily as her bones, she learns to survive in the only way she knows how - by committing an act of deadly self-preservation her mother would have understood best."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Voland Edizioni

An edition of this book was published by Voland Edizioni.

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