French writer Zeller makes his U.S. debut with a novel about a dark night of the soul in the life of an angry Parisian teenager.
Julien Parme is a rebel with a bit of a cause. Aged 14, he’s still mourning the death of his father, five years earlier, and feels abandoned by and resentful of his mother, who has a new partner, François, “a jerk in a goatee and corduroy pants.” Julien is a liar and a fantasist. He imagines himself as a great writer, winning the Nobel at 20. He lies to friends about an affair with a teacher; to strangers about his mother murdering his father; and to the girl he loves, Mathilde, about a cut on his cheek, which was really inflicted by his step-sister whom he punched in the face. The book follows Julien through the eventful night and ensuing days which will finally force his mother, exhausted by the accelerating thieving and antisocial attitude, to send him away to live in the country. The story, populated by a number of middle-class kids with neglectful parents, is a plea for forgiveness and understanding for a bright but mixed-up teen struggling with loneliness and hurt. Zeller veers between the sympathetic and the vaingloriously repetitive as Julien burrows into his simultaneously pitiable and tiresome misery.
A sustained yelp of youthful despair, occasionally affecting, more often exasperating.