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Review: Fear and Trembling

February 16, 2010

Publisher: Faber and Faber/2002

(originally published as Stupeur et tremblements/1999)

Paperback: 132 pages


Amelie, a Belgian woman, spends a year working in Japan at the Yumimoto Corporation. “Disturbing, hilarious and totally convincing, Fear and Trembling displays an elegant and shrewd understanding of the intricate ways in which Japanese relationships are made and spoiled.”


Fear and Trembling might be well-written, confessional and a breeze to read, but in the end, it’s rather simplistic and patronising. First, I don’t know anything about Japanese working conditions so I can’t say whether Nothomb is being entirely truthful in her depiction. Yet, I find it astonishing that the character goes on a tirade by drawing allusions to the fact that Japan has a high rate of suicides because she is being treated unfairly. And why is she being treated unfairly? because she’s terrible at her job. It’s ridiculous, she keeps making assumptions like her bosses are deliberately giving her difficult work.

I realise there is a section in the book about her doing a report and it turning out great. Yet, throughout the story, she never shows any indication that she can do the simplest of tasks. I might be missing the point of this slim book but I found it more annoying than entertaining. When she didn’t except a sweet from her boss because it was oooh icky, was a complete grimace moment. The thing is, if she acted the way she did in a company in the West she would have been fired quite quickly.

It has no substance, even under all the unnecessary allusions to literature and the self-aggrandisement and self-pity. The positives of it are that it’s only 132 pages and is easily read. I thought Nothomb’s other book Sulphuric Acid was an intellectually simulating read that posed some interesting questions. This, on the other hand, was dull. Full stop.


I wouldn’t bother with this. I will try another of her books because I did enjoy Sulphuric Acid.

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