November 18, 2011 10:05 pm

You Deserve Nothing

Alexander Maksik’s debut has the inevitability of Greek tragedy
 

 You Deserve Nothing, by Alexander Maksik, John Murray, RRP£16.99, 320 pages

William Silver is a 33-year-old English teacher at an American high school in Paris. We know the type. Think Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society: he doesn’t just impart knowledge, he changes lives. But we also know that this teaching style is a performance, craving applause. Silver’s affair with a teenage student has the inevitability of Greek tragedy.

Alexander Maksik’s debut relates this tale through three sets of eyes: Silver’s, his lover Marie’s and those of Gilad, a young Jewish boy also under his tutor’s spell. Each account describes a struggle between desire and action, and leads to an awakening. The arrangement of these multiple viewpoints is revealing without being formulaic, while the prose is cool, direct and empathetic. If the book has a weakness, it’s that it shows off its philosophical and literary touchstones too obviously, notably in the repeated references to Hamlet and Camus. But as a study of idealism and fallibility it succeeds brilliantly.

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