LIFE FORM, an epistolary novel by the prolific Belgian author Amelie Nothomb, begins as the prolific Belgian author Amelie Nothomb receives "a new sort of letter" in the mail.
The letter is from Melvin Mapple, an American soldier stationed in Iraq who reveals that he is one of a group of soldiers suffering from wartime obesity; at 400 pounds and growing, he can barely squeeze into his XXXXL uniform. Melvin says he has named his extra fat "Scheherazade," and considers her something between lover, victim and friend.
As Amelie and Melvin continue their correspondence, Nothomb ponders the act of letter writing, "a form of writing devoted to another person." She shares aspects of her creative process with Melvin and encourages him to view his weight gain as an artistic act. Through their correspondence, the two construct a separate, shared reality in text — one that may or may not be true to life.
Translated by Alison Anderson, Nothomb's prose has a hard-edged clarity and a slyness to it. References to newspaper articles, books and true current events give LIFE FORM — tinged with strangeness as it is — a realism that makes the book's ending that much more of a delightful surprise.