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The Sunday Times: "contrasts the giddily liberating sense of discovery that can take place in a classroom with the perils of provoking young minds already beleaguered by hormones and peer pressure."

Date: Sep 12 2011

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Will Silver, the central character of Alexander Maksik’s superb debut novel, is the sort of teacher most high-school students can only dream about having. Charismatic, handsome and inspiring, the 33-year-old English instructor at an international school in Paris is able to draw the sensitive kids out of their shells, while also putting the mean ones in their places. Whether he is dissecting Sartre’s politics or forcing his pupils to question their parents’ religious convictions, Will seems to have all the answers.

 

His power and popularity are so great that it is only a matter of time before he succumbs to hubris. As a colleague remarks, “we live for too long on those adoring eyes and then one day, it’s just not enough”. Will’s temptation comes in the form of Marie, a French student. Their affair, told from the point of view of both, is imagined with precision and pathos. Marie’s brittle voice is particularly compelling.

 

Equally well rendered are the reactions of other pupils to the realisation that their idol may have serious cracks, nowhere more apparent than when Will suffers a very public failure of nerve at the 2002 demonstration against the Iraq war, or in his response after he witnesses the horrific murder of a commuter at a Métro station.

 

You Deserve Nothing is at its best when it contrasts the giddily liberating sense of discovery that can take place in a classroom with the perils of provoking young minds already beleaguered by hormones and peer pressure. As Will painfully learns, the freedoms espoused by Sartre and Camus look good on paper, but when put into practice around teenagers, they can be more dangerous than any fast car or beer keg.