by Amélie Nothomb
translated by Alison Anderson
(Europa Editions, 2013)
Here is a new work of fiction by the Belgian author Amélie Nothomb that subverts any attempts at categorization; a smart, singular, surreal novel about personality and philosophy, trauma and healing, solitude and human connection from one of Europe's most talked about and beloved authors.
One morning, the heroine of this book, a well-known author named Amélie Nothomb, receives a letter from one of her readers--an American soldier stationed in Iraq by the name of Melvin Mapple. Horrified by the endless violence around him, Melvin takes comfort in over-eating. He eats and eats until his fat starts to suffocate him and he can barely fit into his XXXXL clothes. Disgusted with himself, but unable to control his eating, he takes his mind off his ever-growing bulk by naming it Scheherazade and pretending that his own flesh will keep an increasingly intolerable loneliness at bay.
Repulsed but also fascinated, Nothomb begins an exchange with Mapple. She finds herself opening up to him about her difficulties with being in the public spotlight and the challenges of her work. An epistolary friendship of sorts develops, one that delves into universal questions about human relationships, one with an unexpected (to say the least!) final twist.