The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (January 1998)
First off, must correct a grievous error I keep making. Amelie Nothomb is NOT FRENCH! She was born to Belgian parents while living in Japan. She speaks French, along with at least a couple of other languages, but she’s Belgian.
Here’s a link for an article about Amelie Nothomb published in the Guardian. What an intriguing person she is, no? Intriguing in an eccentric/bordering on neurotic sort of way. She has a certain Holly Golightly character, mais non?
I read The Stranger Next Door yesterday evening, after a long day spent working at the library. I’d had such a lovely, estrogen-rich, warm and sharing sort of evening with my writers’ group and came home looking for something I could read within the course of the evening, for no other reason than the satisfaction of completion, and there sat my two inter-library loan books by Amelie Nothomb. It was destiny.
This latest Nothomb read is probably my favorite, so far. I’m not sure how she did it but she managed to make this tale of incredibly obnoxious neighbors positively chilling. It’s not Stephen King chilling, but it manages to give one a turn. It will make you look at your neighbors in an entirely different way.
I think this Amazon review captures it well:
From Library Journal:
A retired high school teacher and his wife buy a house in the country that appeals to them as the house for their golden years. They have been deeply in love since early childhood and look on each other not only as spouse but as each other’s child and parent, heart and soul. This should-be idyllic scene is rent by the oppressor, in this darkly comic case an obese, irascible, grimly taciturn neighbor who appears at their door daily for a two-hour “visit.” Husband and wife try a variety of coping strategies as the infernal visitations accumulate: gallantry, absurdity, rudeness. All is recounted with a straightforward grace that provides readers with a front-row seat at this black comedy of modern manners. This is the first of the young and already prolific author’s books to appear in the United States. Readers will eagerly anticipate more.?Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The book has a sort of Kafkaesque feel, a surreal quality that’s both menacing and entirely ridiculous, at the same time. You ask yourself why this couple doesn’t just eject the man. They make an effort, only to be foiled time after time, mostly by their own sense of moral decency. It’s really a fascinating psychological portrait and I’d recommend this most highly of all Nothomb’s works I’ve read so far.
Putting it simply: very good stuff.