R89. Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy

Year Published: 1989 (1991 or 1993 in English, translation by Tim Parks)
Pages: 101

First Sentence: At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Appenzell.

I have to admit, I'm doing that thing I said I wouldn't do after my experiment with The Hour of the Star failed so miserably, that is to say I've been reading short books in order to get to the end of The List faster. 

Fleur Jaeggy's Sweet Days of Discipline is certainly short and sweet. When it comes to very short books I've read in translation, but that otherwise have nothing in common, it's not as good as The Hour of the Star.

The story is about an unnamed narrator, who has been at various boarding schools from a very young age. She's currently at a smallish school in the Alps. One day, a new French girl named Frédérique arrives at the school and the narrator begins a sort of romantic friendship with her. In other words, the girls spend a lot of time together and the narrator desires her friend, but their relationship never seems to become physical, and any romance between them remains unspoken.

(Speaking of romance, I was a bit torn on whether to call this a romnov or not, but the romantic element is just too minimal for me to take this review in that direction.)

The story is told with very simple sentences—I have very limited grasp of Italian via French and some lessons on the Duolingo app several years ago, but I could honestly probably take a stab at reading this in original language, based on the style in translation. As you may know, I kinda dig very simple styles, so this prose worked well for me, but I do think that overall the narrative was pretty shallow—there wasn't much to read between those simple lines. Part of the problem is that we don't get to know the main character well enough. We know her mother sends orders about her education all the way from Brazil, we know she goes for walks early every morning, we know that she hates her German roommate. And yet I always felt her as being very distant despite being a first person narrator. The book is also somewhat disjointed by its variable chronology (like any recollections of the past).

What this book does best is evoke the atmosphere of an isolated boarding school in an Alpine idyll. I went to an all-girls' school and while it wasn't nearly as homoerotic as this (we were mostly day students, which I think helps a lot with that sort of thing), there was definitely a lot of passionate emotion and unrequited feelings going around, even if they weren't necessarily romantic ones. The girls in this book are also very different from the ones I went to school with. The girls in Sweet Days of Discipline are all neglected rich girls desperate for parental affection and have been squirrelled away in boarding schools from a very young age.

Anyway, I didn't really come away from this book feeling much of anything. It's too short, too disjointed, too distant. There's a good chance another reader would have a very different impression of it though, and for that reason alone I'd suggest giving it a shot.

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