The Book of Proper Names

“The Book of Proper Names” by Amélie Nothomb (Belgium)

Synopsis and Review

“The Book of Proper Names”: a Modern Fairy Tale for Adults

“The Book of Proper Names” by Amélie Nothombe is a modern fairy tale for adults complete with an orphan girl, a wicked stepmother, a prince charming, and a happy ending. But like all fairy tales, beneath the surface is a story which in few pages touches on topics as deep as dysfunctional families, eating disorders, and suicide. The heroine, Plectrude, is born from tragedy, raised by her possessive aunt and discovers a unique gift for dancing. Accepted to a prestigious French ballet school, imaginative young Plectrude faces the harsh realities of the ballet world, pushes her body beyond its limits, and eventually commits an outrageous act in her determination to create her own destiny.

Members of the Book Club felt that the story was best enjoyed as a fable, because it did not stand up well to closer analysis. Fans of the book cited vivid passages of description, especially of the strict regimes of the dance school. Reader’s enjoyed Nothombe’s sharp and cutting humour as she commented on the ironies of Plectrude’s adventures. Others had a more mixed reaction to the story. Some felt that the end was rushed, especially in view of the detail of the first half of the book. The surprise ending was perhaps the most controversial aspect of the book. Members either loved it or hated it. Overall, the group enjoyed this novel, as long as one appreciated the story for what it was. It received an average score of 7 out of 10.

Nicola’s Book Club reading list 

Season 2 (Sep 2005 – Jan 2006)

“The News from Paraguay” by Lily Tuck (U.S.)
“Welcome to Paradise” by Mahi Binebine (Morocco) *
“The Book of Proper Names” by Amélie Nothomb (Belgium)
“Some Prefer Nettles” by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan)
“Black Waltz” by Patricia Melo (Brazil)

* The book club favourite
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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