Written by Amelie Nothomb Translated by Alison Anderson
Published by Europa Editions (2018, first published 2017) Original Title: Frappe-toi le cœur
ISBN: 1609454855 (ISBN13: 9781609454852) Bought a copy of the novel. Book quotes layout via iPhone app.
I bought this book primarily because the blurb indicated that it is a story highlighting female bonds – which would have made this perfect as well for our previous reading theme. True to form, the story revolves around Diane, the protagonist of the story, her hateful mother Marie, her overly-coddled sister Celia, her despicable mentor Olivia (Madame Aubosson).
I read this book in two days: it is fairly short, more like a novella, and fairly riveting with its own haunting voice. The reader sees Diane gradually transforming – from the death of her childhood to her exhausting years as a medical student.
I don’t think I have read any mother as hateful as Diane’s mother, Marie: thoroughly self-absorbed, mean and spiteful, and unmindful of anyone else’s needs apart from her own. Diane is fortunate to have been ‘saved’ somewhat by the love showered upon her by other family members, particularly her grandparents who took her in when she felt the necessity of establishing a very clear boundary between herself and her mother.
It is perhaps this very vulnerability which made her gravitate towards her mentor, Olivia who, like a vulture, preyed on her wounds. I especially liked the scene where Olivia asked Diane why she took up cardiology as her area of specialization in the first place:
Throughout the novel, the reader sees Diane striking her heart repeatedly, until she becomes impervious to courtship, false promises, intimacy with another – as she gets betrayed and hurt by the women closest to her.
Then there is also the way women are perceived in the academe – something that I experience firsthand. Pretty interesting how the phenomenon described below seems to be universal:
Remarkably, Diane only becomes stronger after every betrayal. While most people, even her closest friend Elisabeth, regard her as cold, I feel that she has been simply transformed to the woman that she needs to become in order to survive. She has never lost her capacity for compassion, gravitating the way she does to the broken and the helpless.
I was intrigued by the quote above. I have always believed that indifference is the antithesis to love, not contempt. The latter requires sneering, a level of derision that requires energy that is not even perceived as worthy of the person any longer when one experiences indifference. Yet, I also see the truth of this. Contempt signifies power and an aura of superiority distancing one from another; and yes, this can be worse than hatred which drags the person down to one’s level to do battle.
While short, this story is deeply affecting, despite its extrapolations that could have been construed as manipulative, yet only came across (at least to me) as earnest and true. I am glad to have known this Belgian author through our #WomenReadWomen2019 theme.