03 by Jean-Christophe Valtat

Book Quote:

“It might well be riskier to reveal much of anything to one’s parents, burdened as they were by the course of their own imperfect lives and likely to react to secrets or confessions with the usual defenses: scornful dismissal or a panicky, fawning appeal to a ridiculous army of experts.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte (JUL 15, 2010)

Scan the young adults or teen sections of pretty much any bookstore and you will find an overwhelming percentage of fiction devoted to the vampire segment or to fairy tale romances. In that sense, Jean Christophe-Valtat’s slim novel 03, is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Told through the voice of a high school narrator in the French town of Montperilleux, it captures the emotional rootlessness of the teen years brilliantly. The story revolves around the narrator’s interest in a fellow teenager, a girl who is mentally handicapped and who therefore travels to a special school on the outskirts of town. Even if the narrator is gifted and his mental faculties way ahead of the girl’s, he finds many similarities between himself and the girl. “I was like her, an overprotected schoolchild in a town where nothing at all could plausibly have distracted me from my records and books for any length of time,” he says.

At one point in the story, he admits he is too unsure as to how to even approach the object of his desire. “As far as feelings were concerned, I too was slightly deficient,” the narrator points out.

In pointing out these similarities, the French author drives home the point that even the brightest of teenagers can be quite lost and adrift.

It is evident that the narrator has figured out the rules of the adult world however, and learned how to play their game. “My intelligence is carefully crafted to satisfy all the demands of my teachers, right down to the essential touch of originality that would set me apart,” he says. These are the hints of giftedness in the narrator’s voice. Of course this could also be classified as an adult author’s cynical take on the matter but it’s easy to overlook that angle in the wonderful 03.

It is also touching to see that while the narrator has almost figured out how to work the grownups around him and to play their game, he is still unsure and bumbling when it comes to interactions with his peers. After all he has none of the attention-getting trappings so coveted by teens—nice clothes or, even better, a fancy car.

03 doesn’t really have much of a story but as the book progresses you can see the narrator make peace with the fact that his friend will remain forever trapped in her mind and body while he will move on. This realization is beautifully done.

American readers might wince at the generous use of the word “retarded” in the prose. The prose itself is rendered as one long paragraph over 90-odd pages. This form too might make the material less accessible to some.

Nevertheless those who persevere will be richly rewarded. 03 is a beautiful reflection on the bewildering complexities of the teen years. Teenagers (and adults who have all been there) will find the narrator’s voice to be a mirror of their own. It’s especially heartening to see Christophe-Valtat prove that you don’t need vampires or werewolves to speak to your audience. As his wonderful novel shows, a teen’s everyday insecurities are scary enough.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (June 22, 2010)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Jean-Christophe Valtat
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another different teen years story:

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson


July 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, France, World Lit

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