03: A Novel Paperback – Jun 22 2010
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“Jean-Christophe Valtat's novella 03 . . . written in one unbroken paragraph, about a teenage boy's unrequited love for a mentally handicapped girl he sees every day at the bus stop, has an enormous, controlled rage. It roars, from the shallows of the dreariest French suburb, against such received ideas as the religion of childhood ‘innocence,' the comforting notion that we all ‘grow' and ‘develop,' and the solace, offered by our teachers and our parents, that if we observe the proper rites our futures will be meaningful and wholesome . . . His book is at once Proustian and anti- Proustian: childhood and adolescence minutely, lyrically, philosophically examined, only to be given a contemptuous failing grade . . . It is a risky and ambitious book, though it does not seem "experimental" as such, in part because it is so grounded in the real, in the boredom and self-aggrandizement of being a teen-ager. The narrator is morose, aggressive, silly, defiant, as we all were; unlike some of us, he is also funny, intelligent, lyrically precise, and frequently self-aware.” ―James Wood, The New Yorker
“[Valtat's] hypersensitive high-school student listens to the Cure's Pornography but speaks like someone out of Proust ...Valtat manages to re-create the exact unhappiness of lost youth.” ―Fabrice Gabriel, Les Inrockuptibles
“A slim Proustian recollection with a vitriolic backbeat, Jean-Christophe Valtat's novella 03 captures the obsessions of its teen narrator . . . Intellectually fierce . . . the story hits its stride when the narrator starts talking about songs by the Cure, at which point the prose turns so lucid, circuitous, and loaded with undetonated angst that it becomes an outright performance.” ―Bookforum
“If there's any justice in the world--and of course, 03's narrator would insist that there isn't--this beautifully bitter little book will become as instantly classic as the work of Morrissey and Marr.” ―Emma Garman, Words Without Borders
“A book that's a unique and insightful ... rumination on youth. 03 is a mix of beautiful and soiled thoughts presented in an unformed mess of confusion and truth. And, if memory serves, that's exactly what the high school years were like.” ―Kyle Olsen, Hipster Book Club
About the Author
Jean-Christophe Valtat teaches comparative literature at Clermont-Ferrand University. He is the author of two novels and a story collection.
Mitzi Angel is the publisher of Faber and Faber, Inc.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Not long after Salinger published Catcher in the Rye, Albert Camus published The Fall. Camus's self-proclaimed "judge-penitent" Jean-Baptiste Clamence reflects upon his life to a stranger in a bar in Mexico City. Clamence tells of his success as a wealthy Parisian defense lawyer who was highly respected by his colleagues; his crisis, and his ultimate "fall" from grace, and in the process explores themes of innocence, imprisonment, non-existence, and truth.
As in The Fall, 03 is a monologue. There is no action and no other characters speak. The setting is a bus stop in a suburb of France, MontpeÌürilleux, and the narrator is a high-school boy. From the shelter of his own bus stop, he watches each morning as a retarded girl who waits at the bus stop across the street for a bus to take her away. He is obsessed with her. But more specifically, he is obsessed with her innocence. His infatuation only provides a point of departure for a discursive trip through his mind and all he perceives.
Like Caulfield, he resides in the transitory station between childhood innocence and adulthood, a place where one can clearly observe the future, yet feels powerless to avoid its gravitational pull. He is already beginning to recognize his own complicity in the transformation he so desperately wants to resist.
"I had to imagine that my easy empathy for this girl and her spiky hair must apply just as much to a version of my own existence, an idea of what my life would be like if somebody took away, altogether or partly, the mental faculties that let me show off for adults and be rewarded for it (though I had long ago realized that the kingdom they claimed to rule was nothing but one tiny province in a much bigger empire where they were nothing but pawns: that in dealing with grown-ups you kept coming up against one kind of disability or another, a thing that was disconcerting at first, but more and more reassuring when you realized that the judgments they handed down had no authority)."
Camus earned the Nobel Prize in literature, in part, for giving Existentialism a voice. Many authors have since followed in his path, but few have given us such a rich portrait in the process. What could easily have just been a conceptual piece (the book is one long paragraph) hits the mark as engaging as well.
If you enjoy Camus or the edges of Catcher in the Rye, 03 is worth the read.
As a counterpoint, if you are put off by profanity or the indignities that accompany unfiltered thought, this may not be the book for you. Also, while the length feels natural for the story, some people may feel put off paying full price for essentially a novella.
Five stars for concept, perspective, and language; four stars for dimension and length.
Rounding up for novelty of subject to five stars.
Hope this review helps you.
A young man stands at a bus-stop looking at a girl who he thinks he might fall in love with. She's handicapped. He has no qualms looking down on her, even as he imagines he's looking up. Too smart for his years, like many other French protagonists, lonely, just beginning to grow up... the narrator fits many stereotypes and hardly seems to change, though at some point he switches from child to adult remembering--read carefully or you'll miss it.
03 certainly evokes the loneliness of youth, but perhaps doesn't age well, or perhaps I'm just not the intended audience.
Disclosure: We're wondering in our book group if short books always take longer to read than long ones.