15 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Class is a novel about the everyday life of a Paris public school literature teacher who thinks that his current position is a bit useless. The teacher who narrates this book paints not only a picture of his depressing life but of those other educators who are in the same position. Through weighty dialogue, Begaudeau also highlights the struggles that come along with placing a mixture of cultural backgrounds in a single room to learn basic concepts of French literature. The outcome of this situation and overall message of the book seems to be that sometimes teaching can be less than rewarding when you are placed with a rowdy crowd of kids.

The middle-aged narrator comes across as angry, impatient man unwilling to go out of his way to capture the much needed attention of these adolescent teens. His interaction with these ninth graders is less than intolerable and seems more of an obligation than a passion to inspire. At times his behavior even comes into question.

“M’sieur you see how he shoved me?”

“I don’t care.”

The novel is one long string of fight after fight from the students and complaint after complaint from the faculty. The chapters are interchangeable, going from classroom scene to faculty lounge and back. This setup flows, but sometimes it can take a few paragraphs to understand what the complaint or complication (because it has to be one of the two) is for a particular chapter.

Begaudeau does a remarkable job getting the point across that the life of a teacher can be very hectic and unruly at times. However, there is a lack of characterization among both the faculty and the students, which causes everyone to blend together into a huge blob of chaos. Begaudeau might have done this on purpose to help further the point that the narrator has no passion for teaching “The Class” and no sympathy for the whiny staff. This lack of character description makes it very difficult to identify with the teacher, who is just a blurred vision of annoyance. And on the other side of the equation, it’s hard to understand the struggles of these teenagers without being able to connect with them in some way. Or even identify them—oftentimes the focus is more on a clothing detail than anything substantive or permanent about the students:

Frida now had long hair and red letters spelling GLAMOUR appliquéd on her black T-shirt.

Which goes to show how little the narrator cares about his students.

The so-named sat down, a glaring welt in the middle of his forehead.

The ending, possibly the most “happening” scene from the book, is a bit confusing for a couple reasons. There is a soccer game going on outside and one of the literature teacher’s “9-A’s” comes to tell him that they have been disqualified from the game. The teacher’s attention automatically zero’s in on the soccer game, with a play by play description, and just when you think that this is the point where he will defend these kids and let down his guard; the end. You leave the novel the same way you entered it; confused1.

1 This novel was put on the big screen in 2008 and even played at the opening night of the New York Film Festival. It was the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nominee and seems to fill the it the gaping holes in the novel. Michael Dargis from the New York Times says that it’s “an artful, intelligent movie about modern French identity and attempts to transform those bodies into citizens . . .” The struggle that comes about when you place so many characters into one book is learning how to express identities and knowing how to connect the reader with the characters. The movie makes those connections and allows the audience to paint the whole picture, furthering their understanding of The Class.

28 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Went to the Sebald panel that the Mercantile Library hosted to kick off the publication of The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald (Seven Stories), edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. First of all, the library is beautiful, and I can’t believe I didn’t even know about its existence prior to last night. It caters almost exclusively to fiction, its shelves stuffed with great fiction and literary journals. Check out their events and book groups if you’re in NYC. One hundred bucks per year will get you membership and access to the space, well worth the price, I think.

Rambling Jack
Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what. . .

Read More >

The Things We Don't Do
The Things We Don't Do by Andrés Neuman
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .

Read More >

Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

Read More >

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >