It has been said that NDiaye’s work is impossible to decode at the level of either psychology or conventional narrative. Certainly the phantasmagoric atmosphere she creates — diffuse realities and uncertain identities, fractured causality and impossible chronology, a constant movement of regression — suggests that her inspiration lies not in the real world but in nightmares or, more specifically, in the Freudian unconscious. In this view, Ladivine is the record of a trauma suffered by the woman who first left that tropical country, a trauma severe enough to haunt succeeding generations. It’s a wild ghost story, rooted in immigration and exile ... The dislocated women of Ladivine are trapped in repeating narratives of violence and loss. They are all brave women who have come from a place where events in which they are involved have already occurred, events they are unaware of but are forced to revisit. It’s a form of self-belief, finally, that saves them, regardless of how grim their fates may appear. The ending of Ladivine is perfect, both poignant and strangely hopeful.
NDiaye’s readers are forced to endure this same emotional distance, as Ladivine’s prose, brought into exacting English by her frequent translator Jordan Stump, insistently refuses them full access to her characters ... NDiaye’s refusal to immerse us within her characters’ minds makes it seem as if something crucial is being withheld, as if we are continually being presented with mere veneers—a sensation at odds with the sheer amount of attention NDiaye devotes to thoughts, feelings, and impulses ... By straddling the realistic and the fantastic, by touching on the needs of the present moment and presenting new answers to age-old dilemmas, NDiaye is writing a literature both innovative and incredible.
The parallel but non-overlapping narratives of the two Ladivines provide the novel’s most haunting effects. Yet while Ms. NDiaye addresses her themes of separation and disappearance with artistry, it is overshadowed by the book’s grim, devoutly humorless tone. Translator Jordan Stump has done faithful, diligent work, but the prose is as solemn and droning as a church organ.