Set in an international high school in Paris, YOU DESERVE NOTHING is told in three voices: that of Will, a charismatic young teacher who brings ideas alive in the classroom in a way that profoundly affects his students; Gilad, one of Will's students who has grown up behind compound walls in places like Dakar and Dubai, and for whom Paris and Will's senior seminar are the first heady tastes of freedom; and Marie, the beautiful, vulnerable senior with whom, unbeknowst to Gilad, Will is having an illicit affair. Utterly compelling, brilliantly written, YOU DESERVE NOTHING is a captivating tale about teachers and students, of moral uncertainties and the coming of adulthood. It heralds the arrival of a brilliant new voice in fiction.
This book is very different to the things I usually read and it reminded me of Oleanna by David Mamet which I read for University a couple of weeks ago. Set in a school it talks of the boundaries between teachers and pupils. For the most part it talks about a relationship which is very inappropriate for the roles of teacher and pupil however in some areas regarding Gilad it shows the absurdity of the things teachers are not allowed to do.
The novel covers three 1st person narratives, Will; the teacher and confidant of most of the pupils, some a lot more than others, Marie; Will’s love interest, a pupil at the school and Gilad whom is totally inspired by Will, Will is supportive of Gilad which is considered inappropriate but is, unlike his interest in Marie, totally innocent.
The novel has a very predictable ending, but is very fast paced switching between the narrators quite quickly as the story moves forward. I was able to read it within around 3 hours. I found the classes in particular quite interesting and, apart from the boundaries he crossed, I believe I would have found him a very enticing teacher. The topics he tackles and teaches are relevant in everyday society and teach the children vital values.
I did have trouble at times distinguishing between the voices of Will and Gilad and did have to move back a few pages to remind myself who was talking. However, I did like it when Maksik told the same story by two of the narrators, there was one in particular which was very striking and heartfelt of something that happened between Marie and Will. I will not disclose any more as I do not give any spoilers.
The characters were very well written and diverse, the class enabled Maksik to include different beliefs and cultures crammed into one room to vent lively opinion and discussion. The three main characters in particular were very believable, there were a couple of minor characters which were also very well developed. Ariel seemed to vent hatred from her character sparked from jealousy which was very believable as a concept. Teenage girls can be very hard to capture but I feel Maksik does it very well with both Ariel and Marie.
There were small areas which included a little French, I found at times I didn’t know what they meant after only studying a little French in school. This is not a problem in the novel and I felt I knew what was going on enough to not have to look up these particular phrases.
Overall Maksik produces a very political and in some ways controversial novel which captures the essence of the problems of teacher pupil relationships as well as the absurd rules of the society. This is definitely worth reading.