Strike Your Heart is a disarmingly simple yet deeply complex study of a mother-daughter relationship and its lifelong implications. The title is apt: The reader viscerally feels the book’s psychological blows ... Pain radiates throughout these pages, sometimes to the point of feeling like overkill. The worst bad-mother tropes drop like anvils. But one can overlook this heavy-handedness to wade into the rivers of heartbreak that Nothomb so exquisitely navigates ... Strike Your Heart is a finely honed, piercing novel. No wonder it is acclaimed in France. If you are human, it will strike your heart, too.
Strike Your Heart is a parable, so it makes sense that it reads like the voice-over of an animated fairy tale: spare, severe, with an archness that implies wit without quite achieving it ... Nothomb is at her best when she luxuriates in the crevices of an emotion’s rational irrationality, but Strike Your Heart never settles down long enough to excavate much of anything a character feels. It seems she cares less about Diane than she’s cared about her lovely leading ladies in previous parables ... Strike Your Heart isn’t very good, but I think that’s OK. When a writer produces more than twenty titles, there are bound to be a few disappointments. Without the zest of narcissism, Nothomb’s writing can become wooden. No longer self-conscious about her self-aggrandizement, she abandons her humor and her eccentricities, and largely gives up plumbing the shameful bottomlessness of the ego, which is what gives her strongest passages their complexity.
...this short, pungent tale of familial jealousy, personal ambition and unrequited love introduces a wonderfully compelling heroine and charts her formative relationships with several significant women ... For the most part, Strike Your Heart unfolds in spare, blunt, matter-of-fact prose. Nothomb’s style and tone become more animated and textured when describing Diane’s anguished response to a tragic circumstance—a snuffed-out life, her mother’s ice-cold shoulder—or her child’s-eye observations of the world around her ... Nothomb dazzles with her shocking denouement and leaves her stunned reader with a bitter aftertaste in the mouth and a craving for more.
Nothomb has published a book a year since 1992; though quite a few are available in English, she is still something of an unknown. Perhaps this new novel will bring her the recognition here that she has abroad. This razor-sharp morality tale can be read in an afternoon but contains a lifetime of wisdom about how we cope with the weaknesses of those closest to us.