They better call it a screenplay rather than a novel.
Entre les murs is poorly written in its dry dialogue-led realism with only a few selected moments of a decent, but mainly sarcastic irony.
Frankly speaking, the reason why I found this book interesting is mainly comparative, thinking to the current Italian system of education.
What I learned is that apparently in one of the most turbulent corners of France you can be suspended from class or even expelled from school just by calling your professor "you" or not asking the permission for throwing a sheet in the wastepaper basket.
Oh Mon Dieu! These teenage banlieusards are worse than savages! What Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have said about it, I wonder? C'est intolerable!
Being myself the son of a teacher who worked in a rather borderline school, I consider the way professor/Bégaudeau interacts with his lazy and partly illitterate pupils astonishing, prejudicial and superficial. On this assumption I'm not surprised he had problems with them.
Liking very much what Laurent Cantet did as a neo-neorealist-director I guess how I would appreciate more the movie based on this book than the book itself.
This is the best crime fiction novel I read so far.
The written proof how literary genres and labels should not mean a thing.
In fact, calling Dürrenmatt a crime fiction novelist would be a crime by itself. And yet, this book must be read from all those who are idolizing and idealising the "Scandinavian crime fiction golden vein".
As for me, what Dürrenmatt wrote here has very much to do with the success later gained by, say, Stig Larsson, Joe Nesbø and Henning Mankell.
Still he did it almost 50 years in advance.
The Pledge is masterfully written, has a rare psychological insight and works even better because of the contrast and counterposition between a brutal crime and the neatness of a well-fed social welfare country: Switzerland. A country where people want a peaceful life, but may not hesitate to lynch the suspicious, and then automatically guilty, foreigner in order to have their own summary justice.
Does it ring any bell?
Dürrenmatt loved and hated that Switzerland, his own Switzerland.
Therefore his best characters are the ones who can not stand its outward appearance, feeling oppressed, winning their battle for thinking out of the mass, but quite often losing the war.
Matthäi, the protagonist of The Pledge is a winner who loses or maybe a loser who wins. The right definition of him is up to the reader.
Eighty eight years before standing on a beach staring at the sea with Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka went to the tropics.
Being such a hermit crab, he stayed out of the tourist routes, taking a boat for docking in a muggy island and visiting a charming Penal Colony. Does it sound too heavy? Well, in case you didn't noticed, not everybody likes spending holidays drinking cold beer while swinging on a hammock giving a look to suntanned beauties all day long.
Do you really think that a pale and overstressed insurance agent would have written such a great short story while renting a bungalow in a Club Méditerranée resort? Then you shouldn't read any Kafka.
Being known on his papers as "der Forschungsreisender", Franz K. visited local landmarks of the detention island such as the Wharf, the Tea House and the infamous Torture Device. There, a Welcome Committee formed by The Officer, The Soldier and The Condemned tried to show him an old and folkloristic, although extreme, tattoo technique that was still quite popular in the Penal Colony. And so it goes...
In my modest opinion, this short story stands at the zenit of Kafka's production. Yet, being not fond of Club Med myself too, maybe I'm not that fair-minded in appreciating The Penal Colony.
Still, I consider these pages at the same time grisly and inspiring, definitely worth reading and rewarding.
In my (Italian) edition of the collection there are many other brighting gems. The first one coming to my mind is The Country Doctor where Kafka follows in his own way the wake of Russian masters like Gogol', Turgenev and Bulgakov, evoking with a richful immagination the evil and dark forces ruling over superstition and impeding science and human logic. If I were a tree I would be proud of being sacrificed by some Torture Device for hosting on my skin one of these short stories.
Well, actually an appropriate rating should give this book a good 8 if only for the beautiful and long (65 pages!) introduction wrote by the same author 20 years later (and not included in the vintage edition portrayed on the left).
Those sixty-five pages are an ode to creativity, irony, wit, romanticism, all.
In comparison, the short stories which follow are not that good. What we have from page 67 onwards is not that original and pretty similar to some of the things written by Giorgio Bassani. Delfini chose Modena (M*** for him), while Bassani chose Ferrara.
Anyway, this writer has to be re-discovered as his books are kind of impossible to find in Italy nowadays and not printed anymore. Yet I have the impression he could have written better things and maybe he did and I don't know about their existence. I will check it better.
If I had the chance to put my eyes on Il ricordo della Basca it's only because I borrowed this book from the best pusher of Italian-literature around, Giulia. But the book drug is becoming harder and harder to get, particularly when it could be that good to become an addiction.