Italian writer Jaeggy's fourth book but first to be published here: a short novel that intensely evokes the cruelties and tragedies that flourish in an ``Arcadia of sickness, where something serenely gloomy and a little sick is going on.'' The narrator recalls a time, in postwar Switzerland, when she was a 14-year-old student in a boarding-school for girls from all over the world. The students were mostly privileged but lonely girls like the narrator—whose mother had remarried and gone to Brazil and whose father lived in a succession of expensive hotels- -or like the homesick daughter of the president of an African country. The girls are still innocent, but ``there is something crude, pedantic, and affected about it, as if we were all dressed in plus fours and long socks.'' And, indeed, the innocent rivalries of competing friendships are tinged with a corrupting cruelty of ignorance and conformity. It is also a place where ``obedience and discipline set the tempo''—which seems to suit a new pupil, the learned and accomplished Frederique, whose presence obsesses the narrator. She wants Frederique to admire her, but Frederique is ``entire unto herself''—a person of great self-discipline whose conversations, though profound, suggest a basic nihilism. Finally, the narrator's strategy to win Frederique fails because ``I still thought that to get something you had to go straight for your goal whereas it is only distractions, uncertainty, distance that bring us closer to our targets, and then it is the targets which strike us.'' Memories of that time are followed by brief references to an adult life forever affected by Frederique, and the speaker's last meetings with the now-adult Frederique, who ``has become like a saint, the most disciplined of us all'' but ultimately obedient to the point of madness. Very European in its underwritten evocations of overwrought sensibilities, but beautifully crafted. A writer to watch.
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