1 March 2011

Amélie Nothomb: Attentat (1997)

Attentat is yet another Amélie Nothomb story which is very different from what she's done before, although several motifs remain from her other works – the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness, virginity, imprisonment (in this case the prison of the narrator's body), obsession to the point of madness, and a violent climax, etc.

Epiphane Otos is a grotesque-looking man in his twenties, and groteseque here means that even Cyrano de Bergerac (about whom there is a reference because of the similarities) is an Adonis in comparison, and the reader suspects that even John Merrick, the Elephant Man's who's also mentioned, would come across favorably at the side of Epiphane.

It is by chance that Epiphane meets Ethel, a really beautiful young woman in the film industry who is distressed by the treatment Epiphane receives simply because he's unbelievably ugly, and a kind of brother-sister relationship develops between them that toward the end makes them virtually inseparable. But secretly, Epiphane – a very intelligent but somewhat misguided person – is madly in love with Ethel. At the age of 29 he is still a virgin, having ignored prostitutes, the only women his physical condition would normally have allowed him access to.

But – as it's now necessary for him to work after he's exhausted his inheritance money – he improbably finds a job (and fame) by joining beautiful models on the catwalk: set off against his ugliness, the beauties shine more beautifully, etc. And the beautiful young women are queueing up to have sex with him – well, it's the difference! – but no, he is silently saving himself for Ethel, and maintains an ascetic stance.

So Epiphane is none too pleased when Ethel takes Xavier as a lover, a narcissistic beau with other obvious faults. But when Ethel decides to break with him and needs Epiphane for brotherly comfort, Epiphane has at that very time to judge a beauty competition in Japan. Ethel insists he go, and Epiphane says he'll maintain contact by fax.

On the flight, Epiphane writes pages and pages to be faxed to Ethel, continues them in the hotel, finally confesses his love in the last one, returns and discovers Ethel's back with Xavier and furious with Epiphane as he's not only arrogantly assumed the impossible – that he and Ethel can be a couple – but written her a fax so dazzlingly beautiful that no one else could ever in her life write her, so he'll have to leave for ever, but he kills her, and  internally preserves her memory in his solitary prison cell.


Anonymous said...

what a bullshit!

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Oh, I thought it was quite good, and gave my reasons: you didn't even give your name!