THE NAMING OF a heroine may not always be attended by fairies (as Sleeping Beauty's was), but it is a fateful event. Cinderella wilts under her derisive nickname; Jane Eyre clings to her plain, stubborn badge of identity; and in each case something important is asserted. Naming is also significant in the destiny of Plectrude, whose peculiar childhood unrolls like a skewed fairy tale in The Book of Proper Names. Plectrude's distinctive name is her only inheritance from Lucette, the young mother she never knew. Lucette, appalled by the mediocre names her husband proposes for their unborn child (Tanguy and Joelle cause particular fury), shoots him dead. After giving birth in prison, she insists on naming her child - 'Plectrude protects you: that 'rude' at the end sounds like a shield' - and then hangs herself. The babe is brought up by her aunt Clémence, and never told her true history.
Although Amélie Nothomb is a literary celebrity and bestselling author in Europe, this is the first of the Belgian writer's thirteen novels to be published in Britain. It will be followed this summer by two more, both on the tensions between European women and the Japanese; one of them, Fear