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Hygiene and the Assassin

Hygiene and the Assassin

by Amelie Nothomb, Alison Anderson (Translator)

Prétextat Tach, Nobel Prize winner and one of the world's most renowned novelists, has two months to live. He has been in seclusion for years, refusing interviews and public appearances. But as news of his impending death becomes public, intrepid journalists from around the globe flock to his home in pursuit of an interview with the elusive author. One after


Prétextat Tach, Nobel Prize winner and one of the world's most renowned novelists, has two months to live. He has been in seclusion for years, refusing interviews and public appearances. But as news of his impending death becomes public, intrepid journalists from around the globe flock to his home in pursuit of an interview with the elusive author. One after the other they discover that, far from being the literary luminary they imagined, Tach has become an obese misogynist, a petulant bigot, an embittered, disgusting madman. The world's most famous author turns out to be the worst misanthrope imaginable.

But Nina, the final journalist and the only female to interview Tach, calls the celebrated author's bluff and beats him at his own game. Her questions and the author's biting responses fly in a triumph of brilliant repartee, and Tach is led to a definitive confrontation with his past, while Nina discoers that in love nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems.

Amélie Nothomb is one of Europe's most successful and controversial authors. She wrote Hygiene and the Assassin, her first published novel, when she was only twenty-five, and it became an instant bestseller across Europe. Winner of the Fournier and René-Fallet prizes, Hygiene and the Assassin is now published in English for the first time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Written nearly two decades ago, this is the first novel of the award-winning Nothomb to be translated into English (beautifully so, by Alison Anderson). The shocking, morbid tale follows Prétextat Tach, a brilliant Nobel Prize–winning author who's also an obese, embittered, reclusive, racist, and sexist old man dying of a rare form of cancer. When the world learns Tach has only months left to live, journalists scramble for an interview. Five are selected, and the first four leave their interviews humiliated by the offensive author. But then the fifth journalist arrives. Unlike the others, Nina has not only read Tach's work but also investigated his life, discovering appalling secrets the author had thought were buried forever. As Nina slowly peels Tach's life apart in front of him, his hatred for her turns to respect. Nina's arrival obliterates the book's languid pacing, bringing much more than a strong-willed persona to the proceedings. Her startling revelations lead to a dramatic and unexpected ending that illuminates why the world, if not always its English-speaking inhabitants, loves Nothomb. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Noble Prize winner Pretextat Tach—the world's most famous living author—is dying of a rare form of cancer and decides to break from his reclusive life by allowing five journalists to interview him in his dismal apartment. The first four are men who quickly run out of the building whimpering, dumbfounded, and in a condition that only extreme amounts of alcohol can remedy. The fifth, Nina, succeeds where her colleagues fail by keeping control of the conversation and demanding an apology from Tach for his insufferable, hateful comments. Throughout the interview, many topics are combatively discussed: religion, love, family, misogyny, literature, and murder. Digging into archival records, Nina confronts Tach with a secret kept by him for some 65 years, exposing a horror that will make readers shudder. This secret is not only at the core of Tach's literary oeuvre but also his very essence. Nothomb's first published work (1992), this novel was made into an opera adapted by Daniel Schell in 1995, a movie starring Jean Yanne in 1999, and, here debuts in English with a brilliant translation. VERDICT Multiple prize winner Nothomb's work will surely keep readers dazzled, mystified, and entertained. Written in fantastically spare but precise prose, it will stand for decades to come.—Lisa Rohrbaugh, National Coll. Lib., Youngstown, OH
Kirkus Reviews

Resourceful journalist uncovers author's shocking secret in this Absurdist first novel that's almost all dialogue.

It was originally published in 1992, when Nothomb was 25; this is its first English translation. She has produced a slew of novels since then (Tokyo Fiancée, 2009, etc.) and won considerable acclaim in France. Her debut, set in 1991 as the Gulf War begins, features a Nobel prizewinner so obese he must use a wheelchair. His prototype is another grotesque glutton, the Ubu of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, an early Absurdist drama. Prétextat Tach is a sacred monster. When word gets out that the reclusive 83-year-old Nobelist is dying from a rare cancer, he is flooded with interview requests. The novel is comprised of five separate interviews. Tach is not an easy subject. He breaks off his first four sessions. One of the journalists exits vomiting. He enjoys letting insults fly, and they're not funny ("Women are filthy slabs of meat"). This from a virgin with "a Ph.D. in masturbation." Still, we do learn a few things. From ages 23 to 59, he wrote nonstop; after that, zilch. All he's done for the last 24 years is eat and watch TV (just the commercials). He's famous because he's unread, except by "frog-readers" who absorb nothing. With the fifth journalist, everything changes. She's the first woman. She even has a name (Nina). Unlike those lazy males, she's done her homework, having read all 22 novels and researched his childhood. And she's fearless, forcing Tach to apologize for an especially egregious insult and eventually spill the beans about that fateful summer day in 1925 when his beloved cousin died. By the end, it's Nina who's calling the shots. The dramatic ending suggests the novel might have worked better as a play, with actors breathing life into the sometimes monotonous back-and-forth.

It's good to know that after this bold but flawed debut, Nothomb has gone on to a fine career.

Product Details

Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.35(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.53(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Amélie Nothomb is the author of over twenty novels, including Tokyo Fiancée, which the New York Times described as "delightfully absurd: and the Boston Globe as "definalty original," published by Europa Editions in 2009. Nothomb's books have been translated into over fifteen languages and have been awarded the French Academy's 1999 Grand Prix for the Novel, the René-Fallet prize, the Alain-Fournier prize, and the Grand Prix Giono in 2008. Nothomb lives in Paris.

Alison Anderson is the author of two novels, Hidden Latitudes and Darwin's Wink. For Europa Editions, her translations include two novels by Sélim Nassib, Tokyo Fiancée by Amélie Nothomb, and Muriel Barbery's novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which spent over a year on the New York Times Bestseller List. She lives near Lausanne, Switzerland.

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