Nothomb, Amélie. Fear and Trembling. Trans. Adriana Hunter. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001. Summary
: The twenty-two year old Amélie takes an entry-level position at a Japanese corporation and, for one year, is subjected to ever-increasing levels of abjection by her superiors that ultimately culminates in cleaning the restrooms on the forty-fourth floor. Comments
: By the time that Nothomb published this book in 1999, the once unstoppable juggernaut of Japan Inc. had tripped and fallen on its face, splitting the mask of perfection wide open and revealing the flawed, all-too-human face beneath. This novel, however, at times veers too hard in the "behind the mask" direction, and what purports to expose the neuroses of Japanese corporate life and womanhood simply produces another series of caricatures that obscure the real complexities and ambiguities that you'd see if the story were written by a Japanese person proper (such as, oh, say, the Kimi wa Pet
Readers are likely to feel a sadistic twinge of amusement at Amélie's humiliations, but there isn't too much else of substance after you realize the cross-cultural revelations are just a sham. Her coworkers' very names are succinct summations of their narrative existences: Mr. Tenshi is her mostly impotent guardian angel, Fubuki is the wrathful Ice Queen. The only other vaguely promising (yet wholly unfulfilled) thing about this blessedly short novel was the homoerotic charge between the protagonist and Fubuki...but, really, this says a lot more about the author than anything else. And that gets to the heart of the matter--this is a tale about a woman who fails to acculturate herself in Japan and instead chooses to write a book that manages to embody her continued failure to understand. Notes
: hardcover, 1st American edition; first published in France by Editions Albin Michel S.A. in 1999 Rating
- Sure, it was reasonably fun to read, but remember--this is fiction first and foremost. Don't expect any great insight.