Thursday, 22 November 2018

Sweet Days Of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy

Sweet Days Of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy
First published in Italian as I beati anni del castigo in Italy by Adelphi Edizioni in 1989. English language translation by Tim Parks published by William Heinemann in 1991. Republished by And Other Stories in February 2018.

My 1980s read for my 2018-19 Decade Challenge and featured in WorldReads: Switzerland

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in postwar Switzerland, Fleur Jaeggy's eerily beautiful novel begins simply and innocently enough: "At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Appenzell". But there is nothing truly simple or innocent here. With the off-handed knowingness of a remorseless young Eve, the narrator describes life as a captive of the school and her designs to win the affections of the seemingly perfect new girl, Frederique. As she broods over her schemes as well as on the nature of control and madness, the novel gathers a suspended, unsettling energy.

Sweet Days Of Discipline is a strange novella with a distinctive cold style that, for me, took a bit of getting into, but was worth the effort. I am not sure how long after her boarding school years our narrator is meant to have told her story as at times she is breathtakingly insightful, but can also be spectacularly naive. Abrupt changes of subject are evocatively childish yet I could also see the young woman that our narrator will become. Her repressed obsession with Frederique is brilliantly portrayed and I loved how she tries to put herself across to readers as a girl who doesn't really care much for anything when the glimpses we get of her behind-the-scenes, so to speak, show a very different scenario unfolding. Her perpetually absent mother, for example, is only spoken of in the context of Instructions From Brasil, instructions such as only to have German-speaking friends being wilfully ignored by both daughter and school.

Frederique is an enigma to our narrator. New to boarding school life, she makes a virtue of her obedience and respectful behaviour, and her neat elegance sets her almost out of our narrator's league. Seen by the headmistress as an excellent social influence, Frederique is, of course, our narrator's first intense crush, but their awakening sexuality is rarely openly alluded to, despite the novella's suggestive title (perhaps deliberate, perhaps simply an awkward translation). Instead a simmering desire for varying degrees of affection and power makes Sweet Days Of Discipline a very tense story even though nothing particularly dramatic actually happens. Jaeggy's writing is all about atmosphere and attitude.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Fleur Jaeggy / Novellas / Books from Switzerland

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