‘Pétronille’ by Amélie Nothomb (2014) – 122 pages
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Since she started publishing her novels in 1993, Amélie Nothomb has produced a 100-to-200-page novel a year for a grand total of 23 novels. That seems to me an entirely sensible way to sustain a literary career.
Her latest, ‘Pétronille’, I found to be a sparkling delight.
“I need a drinking companion,” I thought. I went through the list of people I knew in Paris, for I had only recently moved there. My few connections included either people who were extremely nice, but did not drink champagne, or real champagne drinkers who did not appeal to me in the least.”
Our narrator here is an author named Amélie who bears a strong resemblance to our author. At one of her book signings she meets a young woman named Pétronille Fanto who is an aspiring writer, and they go out for champagne.
‘Pétronille’ is a novel which is more about becoming friends than about drinking champagne. Each of us hits it off or doesn’t hit it off with the individual people we meet, and for most of us there are only a few special people to whom we are willing or able to become particularly close. Much of ‘Pétronille’ consists of the sharp repartee between Pétronille and Amélie. You begin to understand why these two are ideal drinking companions for each other.
I suspect what is going on here is that our author has set out to write and has succeeded in writing a novel that effervesces like high-quality champagne. There is a mischievous merriment to the scenes. ‘Pétronille’ is not a serious novel.
Amélie Nothomb is at the top of her form in this lighter-than-air novel. If you have not read Nothomb before, ‘Pétronille’ is a good place to start. The writing is assured and pleasant to read and contains some insights into friendship. I put ‘Pétronille’ up there as one of her best novels along with ‘Loving Sabotage’ and ‘Fear and Trembling’.