You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik
|You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: The easy moral philosophy content of this raises it above the average for 'inspirational teacher / inspired students all goes horribly wrong' tales in this Paris-based story. Fans waiting for another slice of Donna Tartt et al will love this.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: September 2011|
|Publisher: John Murray|
|External links: Author's website|
Does the world need another 'inspirational teacher lets down students' story? It's debatable, but this one is really rather good.
It's of course true that teacher-student relationships are hardly the most original of subject matters: novels abound on the same area, but what 'You Deserve Nothing' is, is a very fine example of this genre. Call them Campus-novels if you want, it's the usual subject matter of a charismatic teacher who inspires devotion from his male and female students alike. He makes a difference in how they think at a critical age through seminars on philosophy and English literature. It's Muriel Spark's 'Prime of Miss Jean Brodie', it's Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', it's NH Klienbaum's 'Dead Poet's Society' to name just some of the better examples of this genre. If you like those, you'll love this.
Initially, I was viewing it as losing a star in rating merely for not being innovative enough in subject matter, but the quality of the writing is excellent, the three narrative voices (one the teacher, Will; one a female student, Marie; and one a male student, Gilad) are all pleasingly distinct and the Parisian setting adds another layer to the narrative.
But where the story earns more than the four star rating for me is the exploration of the philosophical issues that so interested the, mainly French, writers that Will is teaching his students, namely Sartre and Camus. All three narratives are told from the perspective of a five year gap so they are all recalling the events. At the time, these happened in an existential way, seemingly naturally without reason or order. It's only later that the characters involved are able to contextualise it and insist on a frame of meaning. Will encourages his students to live in the moment, to engage, but the reality is that this isn't always the best option and there are consequences. Although you certainly don't need to pick up on all the moral philosophical allusions, (at one point Maksik has a character struggling to come up with the concept of 'alluding' to) it is, in my view what raises this book up to the level it achieves.
It can certainly be read as a dramatic story in its own right about the tension between desire and action to lead to realization (this along with the existential component is spelled out in the book in diagrams from Gilad's notebook - it would be no surprise if these two diagrams, the only ones in the book, were the genesis of the whole book), albeit of a kind of 'me-too' nature, but when you engage with what Will is teaching the students, it takes on a completely different level. Sadly, Will's own actions fall short of his idealistic teachings which in turn has an impact on his students who idealize his idealism.
Ultimately, there's a reason why so many authors revert to the influential teacher (usually literature) and their impact on young minds - it's ripe for great stories. This is an excellent example. While for more on the sexual antics of those naughty French people, try The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphreys.
For more education-based, sun-kissed fun, try The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman.
You can read more book reviews or buy You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik at Amazon.com.
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