Hypnotism Made Easy

Marie Nimier is a French author who has written numerous novels, only two of which seem to have been translated into English – The Giraffe in 1995 and Hypnotism Made Easy (by Sophie Hawkes) in 1996, making eligible for the missing Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list of that year. Hypnotism Made Easy is a coming-of-age story based around the titular handbook which the narrator, Cora, finds in a house which her family have rented for a holiday. So intrigued is she that she decides to take the book with her, intending to gradually acquaint herself with its contents, and linking it specifically to her strong desire to leave childhood behind:

“I would read these pages bit by bit, so that the treatise would accompany me until the day I came of age.”

The first lesson involves a form of self-hypnosis which she finds soothing:

“My outward appearance did not change at all, but inside, beneath the skin, I dreamed on in peace.”

This seems harmless, but it is already clear that the threat of hypnosis is not an idle one, and a further warning occurs when, in a later holiday, she uses the next chapter to hypnotise another young girl, but then finds herself unable to wake her:

“The day before we left she succeeded in cornering me near the telephone booth and calling me a witch.”

Cora’s earlier attempts to practise on animals have been scuppered by a fraudulent parakeet which begins dripping dye on the day it is purchased and has to be returned to the pet shop. It stands a symbol for the deceptive appearances which will trouble Cora’s love life.

Cora’s love is currently focused on her uncle, Paul, despite the mental difficulties which has resulted in hospitalisation and a refusal to eat. The affection is reciprocated – “They admitted that my uncle had often clamoured for me” – and it is Cora who eventually convinces him to eat again, using the book to help her. On Cora’s part, however, the love is laced with desire:

“My whole body shook upon contact with his skin.”

When he is discharged from hospital and begins living with his speech therapist, Cora is delighted to discover that his lover is jealous of her. She uses her hypnotic powers to ensure they can spend time alone:

“In order to rid ourselves of her, I set about giving her a headache.”

Despite their intimacy, Paul refuses Cora’s physical advances, which reach a ridiculous crisis when she threatens to deflower herself with a zucchini if he will not undertake the job himself:

“If anything were obscene, wasn’t it the innocent way he held me on his knees, as if I were still ten years old.”

Instead she turns first to a travelling hypnotist, Katz, and then (in the same night) her gym teacher, Leo. The loss of her virginity, however, does not change the in the way she had hoped:

“Virgin or no, the date remained the same. I was wrong to believe in the miracle of the two square inches.”

Though Katz is perturbed to discover she is still in high school, he promises that he will return for her when she is eighteen and make her part of his show, a promise which he keeps. Her new life, however, does not live up to her expectations: “I had thought I was escaping: in fact I was drowning.” Slowly we begin to suspect that Katz may be using hypnosis on Cora outwith the show. An interesting comparison can be made with Katz’s original assistant, Pedro whom Cora initially described as “like a poodle waiting for a biscuit.” Pedro seems like a comic character, often badly treated by Katz, but later Cora falls into the same role:

“…like an animal that seeks its master’s affection, I would sprawl all over him.”

Katz, for example, burns Cora with a lighter in order to prove his powers, and later wants her to open the show by stripping, despite her objections. At the same time she finds it difficult to remember things (“I wasn’t even twenty and I was losing my memory”) so she begins to write everything down. However, when she later looks at her journal:

“I discovered absurd, incomprehensible things there, written in my own hand.”

For all the sinister undertones of the second half, Hypnotism Made Easy is a very readable, sympathetic novel. Nimier uses hypnotism to explore adolescence and love which, for many, is a kind of madness. That Katz wants an assistant rather than an apprentice, and that he wishes her to be under his spell both on and off stage, feels like the perfect metaphor for many relationships. Cora herself is endearing even when wrong-headed, and can be easily admired in her foolishness. Most readers will hope for a happy ending she deserves. Hypnotism Made Easy is perhaps not prize-winning material, but it certainly earns its place on the long list, and will make any reader wonder why Nimier has not been translated since.

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4 Responses to “Hypnotism Made Easy”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    How intriguing! At first, I thought this sounded a little like a contemporary version of Barbara Comyns, but now I’m not so sure. It seems even more off-kilter than her strangely unsettling world. Either way, you’re uncovering some very interesting books in your ‘missing year’ project!

    • 1streading Says:

      You’re right – another writer completely new to me. I’d no idea what to expect from this but was pleasantly surprised. It does get more surreal as it progresses but I suppose the adult world can seem fairly cartoony to a teenager!

  2. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 1996 | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] Hypnotism Made Easy by Marie Nimier, translated from the French by Sophie Hawkes (Angela Royal Publishing) […]

  3. Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Winner 1996 | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] Hypnotism Made Easy by Marie Nimier, translated from the French by Sophie Hawkes (Angela Royal Publishing) […]

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