All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

You Deserve Nothing – Alexander Maksik

on June 5, 2012

You Deserve Nothing
Alexander Maksik
Europa Editions
2011, 320p
Read from my local library

Will is an American teacher, teaching English at an international high school in Paris, France. He’s well liked by his pupils, bringing the classes alive for them and forcing them to think and voice their opinions. All of his pupils seem to have a very high amount of respect for him and he and other teachers even attend a party held by a student in the student’s home.

It is at a club where the students and the teachers go after this party where Will first sees Marie. Originally he congratulates her on graduating but Marie hasn’t yet graduated – she will be a senior the next school year and her friend will be a student in Will’s senior class.

You Deserve Nothing is told from three points of view – Will’s, Marie’s and that of Gilad, a student of Will’s who is new to Paris, having grown up in places like Dakar where you needed a bodyguard and driver just to leave the gated compound. Will is the quintessential teacher everyone wants to have – passionate and knowledgeable, motivated and understanding. He is tolerant of what he allows in his classroom and his focus is on getting the students to do most of the talking, challenging their thinking through reading texts like Sartre. Gilad develops an obsession with Will, but a non-sexual one. Will is someone Gilad admires, looks up to and possibly wants to be. Unbeknownst to Gilad, heroic Will is embarking on an affair with Marie and that is something that is always going to come out.

You Deserve Nothing is a book that has seen some controversy, given the accusations that it is more truth than fiction. The author was a teacher at a school in Paris and it has been alleged that his affair with a student, the real “Marie” became the fodder for this, his debut novel. I didn’t know that it was believed to be more anchored in realism than not when I read it, I chose it because of a review Australian author Kylie Ladd wrote for local online bookstore Booktopia some months ago. I enjoy controversial topics and this isn’t the first book I’ve read that centres around a teacher having an affair with a student – however it  is one of the better ones I’ve read even with some of the glaring idealisations!

Will is a character that was portrayed as a man of opposites – in one way he was what all his students adored. A fabulous teacher, a great guy, the sort they could invite to parties and know he’d come out with them, partying, to celebrate the end of the school year. He was well liked by both male and female students and the students chose to take his class with the one student assigned there without choice even staying because of the teaching methods and the fact he ended up enjoying it. Will teaches them to question actions and thought. He gives them something to believe in, and particularly for Gilad, almost ends up as this heroic, idealised character who they come to realise is just as human and prone to mistakes as they all are.

Gilad was an interesting character – like Shannon from Giraffe Days, I spent the first 2-3 chapters of his narrative assuming he was a girl until a comment made me flip back and check and then I realised that he was a male student. He has a less than ideal home life and is struggling with the desire to change it. In Will he finds someone who inspires him to try and be the man he wants to become, to step up and take that action that will change things for him and his mother. I enjoyed his narrative the most I think, perhaps because I found less to judge than I did in that of Will and Marie’s. I thought he was a superbly well written character, sheltered most of his life due to living in compounds in places such as Dakar, the freedom to move around in Paris unencumbered and without escort so joyous to him. I found his evolution as a character through his participation and observation of Will’s class, his tentative friendship with one of the students and his watch as Will falls from grace before his eyes fabulous and his character for me, far overshadowed the one of Marie. Although I sympathised with her, as she might’ve been above legal age in France but she was still a student and very vulnerable, I found her mostly uninteresting. I don’t particularly know what her motivation was for her out-of-character targeting of Will for an affair other than her friend seemed to find him attractive and maybe that’s enough motivation for a teenage girl these days. But I did find her full-blown obsession with him a little strange, almost like it was a fantasy of the writer’s rather than an actual believable story. Likewise I found Will immature and selfish – he didn’t even know Marie so his part in the affair is just as baffling but he’s an adult. After the hero-worship of him rammed down the reader’s throat, the waxing lyrical of how wonderful he is as a teacher and person, his weakness and lack of actual concern for Marie’s welfare is pathetic. And yet their story is still compelling, even while I’m disliking Will and questioning Marie, there’s something about it that keeps me turning the pages!

You Deserve Nothing is hard for me to rate, because I didn’t strictly love it in terms of the story and plot, because I’m not sure it’s that sort of book. I did however, find it written in a compelling way that, as I said, held my interest and kept me invested. I definitely think Alexander Maksik can write a story and I will definitely look for his future novels. This is somewhere between a 7 and 8 for the way in which it sucked me in, but I’m feeling generous so

8/10

Book #98 of 2012


4 responses to “You Deserve Nothing – Alexander Maksik

  1. Marie says:

    Great review. I liked this book too and I liked that Will was a kind of fallen idol.
    Can I make a plug for a blog I run? The Europa Challenge is a blog where folks review Europa Editions novels like this one. If you’d like check it out, we’re at europachallenge.blogspot.com 🙂

  2. Sounds like we had identical reactions to this book, Bree! (I actually think that’s a first, right?) The hero-worshipping of Will is hard to stomach isn’t it – and a bit icky if it’s semi-autobiographical. It certainly is compelling – I’d be keen to read his next novel.

    • Lol surely there’s been another book or two we’ve felt the same about… maybe? Haha anyway yes I agree, the fact that this does seem a bit more than just a figment of the author’s imagination does make the hero-worship and idolising of Will a bit distasteful. I’d have liked to know a little more about Marie’s motivations (and actually, Will’s for that matter too!) but I definitely think it was a well-written story in terms of sucking you in. I think the author has another book due out next year so will be looking for that one!

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