By reading the back cover of the recently released English translation of Jean-Christophe Valtat’s, 03 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), I Wasn’t sure if I was looking at Lorin Stein’s stab at the YA market as a last laugh before he took over at The Paris Review:
A precocious teenager in a French suburb finds himself powerfully, troublingly drawn to the girl he sees every day on the way to school. As he watches and thinks about her, his daydreams—full of lyrics from Joy Division and the Smiths, fairy tales, Flowers for Algernon, sexual desire and fear, loneliness, rage for escape, impatience to grow up—reveal an entire adolescence. And this fleeting erotic obsession, remembered years later, blossoms into a meditation on what it means to be a smart kid, what it means to be dumb, and what it means to be in love with another person.
I must mention that the girl he sees every day, is retarded. Not retarded in the way Rahm Emanuel calls people retarded, but retarded in a way that would make Sarah Palin vomit the virgin blood she drinks every night –as a sacrifice to whatever demon she worships– at the mere mention of the word (sorry Trig). I didn’t chose to use the term retarded, the writer did:
“From the bus stop across the street, it was hard to tell, but suddenly I understood, seeing the passengers in the van that picked her up every morning, that she was slightly retarded.”
When I described the book to a friend, he said: “so like a post-modern Lolita?”
“No. I don’t think it’s post-modern, it’s French.”
“Whatever. Same thing.”
Risque? Maybe. Very French? Totally. PoMo? Not at all.
My friend is wrong (sorry bro), as were my initial assumptions about this being a Young Adult novel. After finishing the 84 pages of 03, I can report that it is in fact a gorgeous novella that translates well over to English. It’s an easy summer read that can be looked over twice on a Sunday afternoon, and is good enough to deserve that treatment.