There is no denying that this short novel throws you right into the narrative from the very start. Any hope you might have for Lucette is quickly whipped away, with two deaths complete in under thirty pages. However, this does not even necessarily tell the reader anything about the rest of the novel- except that it is going to be intense.
The title of the novel doesn’t give anything away, either, with no allusion to it until the very end. However, what the reader is made clear of is Plectrude’s importance. The reader is made to focus on every tiny detail about her, from her speech (from the moment she is learning), to her physical appearance (even when this is not in its best form) and it is these small details that allow us to understand more about the story- even when it might seem that very little has been offered to us in terms of narrative or character development. Focussing on these small details results in an ‘Oh, I see how this is making sense’ scenario towards the end of the novel.
It is interesting that Clémence’s husband plays such a quiet role in this novel. On the rare occasion that we hear his opinion, it is quickly undermined by his wife, highlighting the importance of women in this novel, and potentially foreboding Clémence’s fate-changing tendency that we later see. This is clever, considering that she appears to be so kind and accommodating elsewhere in the novel.
Nothing is more unexpected than the very end of the narrative. In fact, even just a few pages before the end the characters’ fate changes, which means the reader should never relax or be complacent in their predictions. It is the first time that Nothomb references herself as the narrator, which means the final event feels a little glued on, and does not seem to flow properly with the direction of the rest of the narrative. Having said that, it certainly adds to how shocking the event is.
In contrast with the intensity of the subject of Robert des noms propres, Nothomb’s writing style is very relaxed, and incredibly easy to read. She favours the matter-of-fact over convolution which, one might argue, contributes to the intensity of the subject in hand.
I would definitely recommend Robert des noms propres, for the very reason that it is sure to keep you on your toes. Even when you think you have predicted the outcome, you discover you are wrong, and it is this that keeps you turning the pages. This engaging yet unpredictable narrative, combined with the simple writing style makes this a quick, yet satisfying, read.