The three women in French-born NDiaye’s triptych novel, winner of France’s Prix Concourt in 2009, need all the strength they can muster as they struggle to survive. As the lives of Norah, Fanta, and Khady intertwine in France and in Senegal, each woman manages an astonishing feat of self-preservation.
Three Strong Women is a major work of world literature, and one that deserves a readership in English as well as in French ... NDiaye's book is hardly the modish 'interlocking narratives' novel it first appears to be. The author shows Norah from all angles — as a woman, a daughter, a lover, a sister — but our second strong woman is in fact largely absent. Instead, the author follows her impulsive and paranoid husband over the course of an epically horrible day ... NDiaye's prose, rendered into mostly supple English by John Fletcher, luxuriates in paragraph-long introspection and occasionally dips into the supernatural ... Her rich, sensuous style takes some getting used to. But give it time. Three Strong Women is a rare novel, capturing the grand scope of migration, from Africa to Europe and back, and the inner lives of very different people caught between pride and despair.
Marie NDiaye, one of France's most exciting prose stylists and playwrights, succeeds with elegance, grit and some painful comedy in Three Strong Women, which won the Prix Goncourt in 2009. Moving mainly between France and Senegal, this novel explores survival, inheritance and the feared repetition of history – within families, as between peoples. Its three heroines have an unassailable sense of their own self-worth, while their psychological battles have an almost mythic resonance ... It can take a while to acclimatise to NDiaye's style, which incorporates a thread of hallucinatory symbolism about flowers and flight. John Fletcher's translation rightly preserves long sentences that can, at times, verge on awkwardness. But the prose compels with its astonishing range and precision.
It is, however, the book’s middle novella — a masterpiece of narrative ingenuity and emotional extremes — that proves NDiaye to be a writer of the highest caliber ... NDiaye is a hypnotic storyteller with an unflinching understanding of the rock-bottom reality of most people’s lives. This clearsightedness — combined with her subtle narrative sleights of hand and her willingness to broach essential subjects like the fate of would-be migrants to the rich North — gives her fiction a rare integrity that shines through the sinuous prose. (Slightly less sinuous in John Fletcher’s occasionally stilted translation, which is a little too slow to warm up: the book’s only flaw) ... Yet through these distorting lenses of madness and deprivation, NDiaye manages nonetheless to convey a redemptive realism about how the world works, and what makes people tick.