Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

You Deserve Nothing - Alexander Maksik

The setting is Paris, at an international high school, where we meet William Silver, a charismatic, inspiring young English teacher. Mr Silver’s classes are popular, the students find him interesting and inspiring, he challenges them to think for themselves, to question, to lead the class, to engage in discussion with him and with each other. He gets them thinking about big issues, life and death, religion, fate, through the medium of the literature they are studying. As we join the story, a successful year has finished, demonstrated by students who thank him for his class and tell him how much they will miss it and him. The summer passes, and a new class arrives. Will is one of the three first-person narrators of the story, in his new class are Gilad, the second narrator, and Ariel, whose friend Marie is the third narrator. The new class has a mix of personalities, some settling more easily than others to Mr Silver’s teaching style. There are some wonderful debates described in the novel about the works of literature they are studying, as they discuss the wider issues that arise and consider philosophical points. It’s enjoyable as a reader to be in the audience for this, so to speak.

The character development drives the novel. How things change for Mr Silver, how Gilad lets the reader into his life outside school as he gets to know Paris and deals with his parents’ relationship, and what Marie does.

Gilad in an interesting character, it is through him we directly experience the way Mr Silver can get into his pupils head and inspire them, and yet it is also through him that we see how students’ perceptions of Mr Silver can change.  Without revealing plot, let it suffice to say that it is questioned whether his teacher is as perfect as he seems.

I loved this novel. It was all strung together so well, it really flowed. I felt like I got to know the characters. It deals with the effect someone can have on someone else, and how much can you expect from another person? Can you expect them to be perfect, to do what you expect them to do? How much do they build themselves up to be a hero, and how much do you do it to them, and expect too much? I also was left wondering and imagining what happened to them all next. Looking forward to more from this debut novelist. 

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