Amélie Nothomb is a bestselling author of whom you’ve probably never heard. She’s Belgian and she’s wildly popular in France for her slightly eccentric, faintly autobiographical novels. She’s also a recognisable literary celebrity: her signature look involves black eyes, red lips and some sort of large black hat – an author designed by Tim Burton.
Pétronille is her latest novel (she has published a book nearly every year since 1992). It’s narrated by a writer called Amélie Nothomb and concerns her friendship with another author, Pétronille. The two develop the kind of female intimacy that adds swagger to both parties: Pétronille makes Amélie bolder; Amélie provides Pétronille with occasional moments of stability. They drink champagne by the ice-bucket load (they even try skiing while drinking champagne) and Nothomb’s descriptions of it are accurate and beautiful; you will crave a cold flute and the feel of bubbles on your tongue.
Nothomb’s world is a place full of surprises and interesting ways of looking at the world. She’s also very honest and spares no one. (Vivienne Westwood appears briefly and is made out to be so vile you wonder if the designer knows Nothomb and is somehow in on the joke.) This is a fantastic look at female friendship and a good introduction to one of France’s favourite cult authors.