At 108 pages, Pétronille is a slight, frothy bubble of a book, in Amélie Nothomb's signature lighthearted style. Though not quite what readers might expect from Nothomb, it's a genuinely funny and touching tribute to a friendship between two young female novelists in Paris. The Belgian author (Tokyo Fiancée, Fear and Trembling), a baroness and international celebrity known for her eccentric apparel, tells the story of an author, also named Amélie, who is looking for a drinking companion. When Pétronille Fanto, a reader she's corresponded with via e-mail, comes to one of Amélie's book signings, she fits the bill perfectly.
Amélie comes from privilege, while her new friend is the left-of-left daughter of a Communist. Their collision in friendship is frequently hilarious, filled with misunderstandings, clever repartee and comic spats. As their lives slip in and out of each other's, intersecting and parting over the years, they get repeatedly plastered, quarrel frequently, make up just as often and become champagne connoisseurs, drinking only the best.
Pétronille is a loose cannon, always ready to take another risk, as in impulsively deciding to urinate between two parked cars. But Amélie is up to the challenge, as she proves in a wildly funny sequence on a ski slope, where Amélie--who has not skied since she was four years old--trusts in "the genius of childhood" and closes her eyes.
Nothomb is spare and witty and sometimes rich. "Reality always rushes in to prove how greatly you lack imagination." The unfortunate ending is ridiculous, but can't quite quell the effervescence of this bright, funny breeze of a novel. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.Discover: In witty style, Amélie Nothomb recounts a friendship between two young women writers who become drinking companions.