I always enjoy Marie NDiaye's work and her ability to create such a hypnotizing and almost hazy experience for the reader. As if everything is passing through a fog. I love the tension and atmosphere that she creates, however overall this book fell a bit flat for me. An interesting literary thriller, but not one to expect any outcome from. I normally don't need to have answers at the end of book but this one challenged me a bit in that respect. It has a cyclical nature and I found it a bit repetitive.
Nonetheless, I found many elements fascinating as I do with all the work I've read of hers.
I've only read one other Marie NDiaye book, a weird little novel called That Time of Year that reads like Shirley Jackson meets Kafka, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this one. The premise was very intriguing. A lawyer is called upon to defend a woman who has murdered her children, but when she meets her new client's husband, she can't help but feel a nagging sense of familiarity. NDiaye (and her English translator, Jordan Stump) has a really masterful knack for building tension and psychological unease in her narrative, and there's a lot going on here. The story feels deep and substantial, with so many things below the surface to dig into. Ultimately, the ending left me not quite satisfied. Fair warning, if you like a clear cut resolution, you will probably hate this book, but I think there's a lot to chew over for those who are more comfortable with uncertainty.
This one was not for me, as I sometimes struggle with translations. I found the story was really about the lawyer and not any sort of thriller or court case. I also found it to be very repetitive and over wrought.
Well. I'm sure that there are some who will celebrate this slim volume but I'm not one of them because, frankly, it's just....I don't even know how to describe it. Susane, an attorney has been hired by Gilles to defend his wife Marylne who has been accused of killing their children. This murder is less important to her than her struggle to decide whether Gilles was the boy who did terrible things to her when they were children. Then there's her maid, a woman who is aggressively odd. Or is it Susane? There's a long monologue by Marlyne which is quite dynamic but on the whole, there's tremendous potential here but it's a struggle, Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. For fans of literary fiction.
Vengeance is Mine is a complex book, and I don't shy away from complex books. This one has a good premise: a French lawyer in her early 40's who is approached by someone from her past to handle a criminal case against his wife, making it a very complicated situation where the MC can't be objective because of her personal feelings. I was expecting this book to be fast paced but it was quite the contrary; there were too many subplots to my liking but I don't think it's a bad thing, since we all in our lives have so many things going on too, so it was realistic. I'm not sure if it was an issue of translation (this book was originally written in French), but I felt the writing was a bit off at times. It didn't flow and I had to put extra attention to the sentences to understand what was going on. I personally found the domestic worker Sharon subplot a bit boring and pointless, which is a shame because it's a big chunk of the book.
Anyway, the twist at the end made this book worth reading for me. I'm not sure I would read it again, but I appreciate it taking me out of my comfort zone.
Thank you netgalley and the publishers for the eARC.
Crime and defence—France
I kept dreading Maître Susane‘s exposure of self as she took on the defence case for Marlyne Principaux. Three children murdered by their mother. Why does their father, Gilles Principaux, step back into the past and select an inexperienced lawyer who might or might not have had contact with him as a child, a long lost love even. Am I reading too much into the sinister vibe I’m sensing?
I found this quite disturbing in its disjointedness and memories that may not be. The ending is unclear. The whole novel grapples with clarity, or maybe it’s me that grapples for reality.
In the end, whilst intellectually sympathetic with Maître Susane, emotionally I found I didn’t really care. I just keep thinking about the three hours I won’t get back again!
A Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
AHH, I am so thankful to Knopf Books, Marie Ndiaye, PRH Audio, and Netgalley for granting me advanced audio and digital access to this psychologically taxing read before it hits shelves on October 17, 2023. Our MC encounters a lot of strife after putting her emotions and professionalism in same room when she's called to a defendant's side whom have grossly impacted her youth and innocence. This is a narrative about growth and discovering that sometimes accountability isn't worth the damaging effects on a victims mental and emotional health. This is a translated work, so at times, there's a disconnect in understanding, but it's very well done and I look forward to publication day.
Attorney Susane’s legal practice is routine and non-eventful, as is her life. She has a client who wants to have his name changed when he discovers that one of his ancestors was possibly a slaveholder. At a social gathering of lawyers, one of the lawyers shares a story of a woman living in Bordeaux illegally and he doesn’t know how to help her. Attorney Susane hires the woman as her housekeeper as a convenient means of assisting her.
Then Gilles Principaux walks into her office, wanting her to defend his wife. His wife, Marlyne Principaux, murdered their three young children by drowning each one separately in the bathtub. What catches the attorney’s attention is her recognition of Gilles Principaux from when they were children. He a teenager, she ten, accompanying her mother, a housekeeper on a job. While mom works, her daughter is entertained by her employer’s son in his bedroom behind a closed door. What happened to the ten year old girl in that room changed her life and, Susane insists, influenced the choices that led her to become a lawyer. His lack of recognition, intentional, actual, or mistaken identity by her, affects her more than the murders and the fidelity of Gilles Principaux to his wife.
In less than 200 pages, Marie NDiaye makes her brief novel appear much longer as attorney Susane, reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates’ emotional women, juggles issues, professional and personal, getting little cooperation from the people in her life.
Central to the novel are the Principaux couple’s remarks after the murders. NDiaye has subtly situated them into the history of literary tragedy beginning from the Greeks all the way to modern storytellers of dysfunctional tragedies like Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, two feminist chroniclers of infanticide and an imprisoned woman guilty of murdering her employer and his housekeeper. When the Principauxs speak they do so in soliloquys paced with grammatical tics, mimicking the soliloquy James Joyce’s Molly Bloom and the characters in Robert Browning’s long narrative poem about a family murderer, The Ring and The Book. With this rich literary tradition she follows in a manner one of the tenets of the French critic and philosopher Michel Foucault that books enter into conversation with other books, bringing to the conversation themes of her own she has been pursuing in her previous books. Fans of this tradition of writing and, in particular, fans of Marie NDiaye, will like this one.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy.
Brr, this is a chilly, terrifying book, and not just because of the cold weather in Bordeaux where it’s located. Horrible things lurk at the heart of the novel and are suggested in the minute, fastidious narration. It’s central character ought to be the strong core of the narration, but in fact it’s her damage that is its subject, and her ultimate overcoming of it. At times the book is maddening, at others unbearably gripping. The style is mesmerizing, and unique in its voice. I was both impressed and glad when it was over.
Marie NDiaye is THE BEST. Her writing is so strange, compelling, dreamlike, and each in each novel she creates the incredible atmosphere and tone I'm hoping for while always doing something different and surprising. It's hard to compare this to anything or even describe it - it's not exactly a thriller (but it's more exciting than one). But a Marie NDiaye novel is always worth reading if you love literature in translation that's intelligent and sharp.