What gets lost in the enfant terrible accolades that Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb has accumulated over the years (particularly in France) is that she’s not an enfant anymore and that her earlier work was her best.
“Fear and Trembling” (published as “Stupeur and Tremblements”) is as good an Asian culture-clash novel as you’ll find — Nothomb, born in Kobe, Japan, worked for a year in a Tokyo office. Her rendering of that time is mean, self-deprecating, witty, and archly clever. What Nothomb does best is inhabit herself, which gives her best fiction its autobiographical verve.
“No one knows what ‘eccentric’ truly means until they’ve met a Japanese eccentric,” she writes. Then, Nothomb proves it.