A precocious teenager in a French suburb finds himself powerfully, troublingly drawn to the girl he sees every day on the way to school. As he watches and thinks about her, his daydreams—full of lyrics from Joy Division and the Smiths, fairy tales, Flowers for Algernon, sexual desire and fear, loneliness, rage for escape, impatience to grow up—reveal an entire adolescence. And this fleeting erotic obsession, remembered years later, blossoms into a meditation on what it means to be a smart kid, what it means to be dumb, and what it means to be in love with another person. 03 is a book about young love like none you have ever read. It marks the English-language debut of a unique French writer—one of the great stylists of his generation.
"[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 disaffected French teenager identifies with the 'slightly retarded' girl he watches from a distance in this elegant and strangely absorbing novella. The text is one very long paragraph, in which the 12th-grade narrator, stuck in the uninspired backwater town of Montpérilleux, observes the girl, 'locked in her state of unteachable ignorance,' being led each morning by her mother to the bus stop. The narrator finds 'ineluctable similarities between her predicament and my own,' namely that the two are bound as outcasts against a harshly critical, unjust world that doesn't understand or appreciate them. The drab, oppressive society—full of phony adults, misunderstanding, wasted talent, and general failure—grates against this youth who, save a nascent desire to become a writer, feels generally deficient and finds a kind of tormented reprieve in the 'sorrowful compassion' he feels for the girl who can't return his love. Valtat's narrative proves to be a moving experience of being in someone else's shoes."—Publishers Weekly"A man looks back on his awkward, insecure adolescence, specifically his obsession with a special-needs girl, in this novella from French writer Valtat. This thin book is composed of one long paragraph, which helps emphasize the singular, solipsistic focus of its narrator. As the story opens, he recalls growing up in a small French town, waiting to catch the bus to school while across the street a special-needs girl waits for a different bus. He's attracted to her, though the attraction isn't especially emotional, let alone erotic. Pretentious and condescending is more like it: He ponders her 'smeary stigmata of idiocy' and figures that 'while she might seem to be a young person, she was also this thing.' The subsequent pages don't make the narrator much more likable, though it becomes more obvious that Valtat strives to capture the stray thoughts, moral and immoral, that swarm in a teenager's mind while he finds his emotional footing. To that end, the book is more affecting when the boy stops pondering his questionable feelings about the girl across the street and instead considers the physical and sexual abuse some of his classmates have suffered, or describes the music and books he enjoys. Valtat has a nice eye for metaphor . . . As the narrator considers his youth there's little evidence that he's matured; at best, he's just grown capable of articulating his condescension in philosophical terms."—Kirkus Reviews
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.