Madame, a late debut of the university scholar Antoni Libera, who specializes in Beckett, is an universally prized novel. I liked it too (hence four stars), but some criticism is nevertheless necessary, because it is not a perfect book.
The action takes place in Warsaw of the 1960's. The narrator is a high school student, a remarkably erudite boy from a good family (alter ego of the author) who, as nearly all the students in his year, is in love with a school headmistress and teacher of French, the mysterious "Madame". Because of his obsessive nature, and urge to know as much about her, as he possibly can, the narrator sets off on the methodical quest to reveal Madame's past. He discovers the family drama spanning several decades, the example of people's fate decided by political circumstances.
The language of the novel is great, very rich, evoking images in the reader's mind; the book is full of interesting characters and the wanderings of the narrator around Warsaw evoke nostalgia. The realism of these times in communist Poland is also remarkable. I was left with the feeling of re-reading it again from the beginning and purchased the English translation for my husband. In translation it was equally engrossing.
There are, despite my general good impression, some faults for which Libera was criticized by many readers. Two things in particular come to my mind now: firstly, although I like books which give broad reference to general culture, the narrator, a teenage boy, although, I admit, behaving like many high school students from good Polish schools do, seems to be rather an overintellectualized caricature (and knows suspiciously much about Beckett). I am not sure if it was technically meant to show the distance of the author from the narrator (and, at the same time, his youth). Secondly, the book reads as if it were written with a plan, a goal to reach the foreign reader. It is sometimes too straightforward and the author takes pains, elaborately explaining things or events, which seemed obvious to me... However, I learned a lot from the part describing the war in Spain in the 1930's!
Some say that critics should not become authors... I think in case of Libera it is not that bad, although his background seems to be a bit of a hindrance. Nevertheless, although not a complete victory, "Madame", like its heroine, attracts attention till the end.