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Pétronille by Amélie Nothomb review – a literary take on cinema’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Author: Victoria Segal
Newspaper: The Guardian
Date: Nov 30 2015

The two women at the core of Amélie Nothomb’s 23rd novel find each other simultaneously bewitching, amusing and aggravating. The reader might be left with similar feelings towards the book, a self-referential step too far, perhaps, for this arch author. The narrator – a novelist called Amélie Nothomb – decides she needs a new drinking partner, less “companion”, more “comvinion”. She settles on the gamine yet belligerent Pétronille, who appears at a book signing looking like a “fifteen year old boy”. They embark on a champagne-fuelled friendship that involves outraging upper-class matrons at a wine tasting, a disastrous skiing holiday and other tiresomely quirky antics. Pétronille feels like a literary take on cinema’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a supposedly enchanting free spirit who is clearly a nightmare with her al fresco urination and readiness for a fight. What saves this slight work from being toxically winsome, however, are the flashes of vicious comedy – a traumatic encounter with Vivienne Westwood and her poodle, for example – and the sudden turbulent descent towards an ending that demands a rereading. Another one of Nothomb’s tricks, maybe, but one she executes brilliantly.