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.