The Violence of Desire in Amélie Nothomb's Novels


Amélie Nothomb's novels may be divided into two large categories, the semi-autobiographical and the purely fictive. In each of these two rubrics, her novels follow a similar plot structure in which each member of a couple torments the other to the point that one of the two cracks and ruptures the pair, usually through an act of violence, either real or imagined. In the two nonautobiographical novels to be considered in this article, Hygiène de l'assassin (1992) and Cosmétique de l'ennemi (2001), there is also, either in the foreground or background of the plot, a heterosexual couple that is violently broken up by the murder of the woman by the man. In two autobiographical novels written around the same time period, Le Sabotage amoureux (1993) and Stupeur et tremblements (1999), a homosexual pairing is eventually broken apart by the progressively more serious self-abasement by one of the two women. In each of these examples, violence is intimately associated with desire and pleasure. Because of the dual nature of this violence (inflicted in order to create pain and pleasure, against the self and other), this article aims to consider whether its representation in Nothomb's work reinforces or reinterprets gender stereotypes, taking as a theoretical basis Hélène Cixous 's understanding of desire in the "masculine" economy and Julie Kristeva's reading of the abject.