Book Review: ‘Vengeance Is Mine,’ by Marie NDiaye

As in NDiaye’s other novels, the story lives not in the incident but its aftermath. The mystery grips Maître Susane. She spirals toward a nervous breakdown. “Who, to her, was Gilles Principaux?” The question — the novel’s refrain — contaminates the lawyer’s relationships. It alienates her from her parents, who fearfully dismiss her memories, and disturbs her attorney-client meetings with Marlyne.

It snakes its way into Maître Susane’s home, disrupting an already unstable relationship with Sharon, her diligent housekeeper from Mauritius. Desperation and distance define their interactions. Maître Susane pines for approval from this African woman, a yearning that aligns the lawyer with other NDiaye characters harboring a faint racial angst. Determined to do right by Sharon, she takes on her complicated citizenship case, which is stalled by the absence of the calm steward’s marriage papers. Retrieving them unwittingly plunges Maître Susane into another adventure.

In “Vengeance Is Mine,” NDiaye circles a familiar configuration of ideas: trauma and memory, class anxiety, isolation and otherness, the warped savagery of domestic life, the rupture between parents and their children. But she also considers the texture of justice — what it means, how it’s determined and who enacts it. Maître Susane counsels on the law but can’t find redress for her own problems. She’s the lawyer, but who holds the power in her interactions with Gilles, with Marlyne, with Sharon?

NDiaye deals in impressions and captures a particular kind of emotional delirium in “Vengeance.” She leans into jaggedness, twisting her narrative to mimic Maître Susane’s fraying psychological state as she searches for a kind of truth. Intrusive ellipses, a legion of conjunctions and abrupt paragraph breaks reflect the lawyer’s unraveling. Appreciating this moody, sensual and sometimes feverish prose requires submission — to the grooves of language, the performance of storytelling. Maître

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