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, but the book’s tone is static. 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.