For many, Amélie Nothomb is a hat, a dark silhouette and the publication of a new book at each literary season. As she celebrates her thirty years of writing, we wanted, at the Express, to go beyond the character. Who is she really? What secrets does she hide behind her apparent volubility? For a month, we investigated. We met her, we talked to her relatives, we read her, we rewatched old TV shows. On the sidelines of the four episodes devoted to the novelist with 16 million copies sold, diving behind the scenes of our series.
We thought she was inaccessible, ultra-solicited. However, very quickly, in the days following our first request, she gave the green light for a meeting. Appointment is made in the famous office that she occupies at Albin Michel. We go there with a bit of a fuss. Not that Amélie Nothomb is impressive, on the contrary she is kind and caring. Twice, she offers us a glass of water. And leaves us time to exhaust our long list of questions about his relationship with his publisher, his Belgian family, his doubts, his anxieties, his wounds, his joys. She responds briefly, as she writes, forcing us to quickly jump to the next topic. Not out of rudeness. Amélie Nothomb is concise by nature. A way also not to dwell on the questions that she considers uninteresting. She still offers to call her back if necessary.
In the meantime, we read or reread First Blood, his last novel, which we had – dare we admit it – zapped in 2021 despite the rave reviews, and his now classic Hygiene of the assassin and Stupor and tremors. We immerse ourselves in a mountain of documentation. What were we going to be able to tell without giving the impression of a repetition? It's been such a long time since she has been surveying the landscape with one bestseller per literary season! Everyone around us seems to know her. At the mention of his name, everyone goes to his reference: his hat, Jesus, rotten fruit... and his novels of course.
We launch the first lines towards some of his relatives. We grope around, we call people who know her really well but don't want to talk about her, others who say yes right away but hardly see her, convinced all the same of a great closeness between her and them. We annoy some, we please others, eager to share. From her hatter to the creator of the "giant" in her effigy, from her fan-readers to her close friends, we discover a multiple personality, secret and generous, extravagant and reserved.
When she bumps into us again a few days later at the presentation of Albin Michel's new literary season, she grabs us with "Agnès, I have something for you" and offers us a letter from a reader, emblematic of those she receives by the dozen each week. She offers us a glass of champagne, we chat upstairs for five minutes while a crowd of booksellers and journalists awaits her downstairs. She takes the time to do things right. We discover, under its whimsical exterior, a seriousness that we had underestimated.
For a month, we continue our investigation. It erects no barriers. No need, these are obvious. Privacy is prohibited, even on tiptoe. Little by little, we perceive it better. We discover his Belgian part, we evaluate his weight at Albin Michel, we distinguish the character of the person, we measure his proximity to his fans. When one last time, a few days ago, we had her on the phone to check on the final details, we told her that we were sweating "blood and water" on her portrait. "It's not worth it," she replied, in a mixture of real modesty and natural distrust of those who seek to unravel her mystery. Let, if you allow it, dear Amélie Nothomb, the readers discover the four episodes that make up your portrait and judge for themselves if it was worth it.