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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Sweet Days of Discipline

Fleur Jaeggy

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Sweet Days of Discipline

Title: Sweet Days of Discipline
Author: Fleur Jaeggy
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng. 1991)
Length: 101 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Sweet Days of Discipline - US
Sweet Days of Discipline - UK
Sweet Days of Discipline - Canada
Les années bienheureuses du châtiment - France
Die seligen Jahre der Züchtigung - Deutschland
I beati anni del castigo - Italia
Los hermosos años del castigo - España
  • Italian title: I beati anni del castigo
  • Translated by Tim Parks

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Our Assessment:

B : atmospheric, but not much to it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 24/6/1993 Gabriele Annan
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/1993 Aurelie Jane Sheehan
TLS . 12/7/1991 A. Foster
TLS . 28/6/2018 Lucy Popescu
World Literature Today . Fall/1990 Rosario Ferreri

  From the Reviews:
  • "The destructive elements in this book run deep. (...) With icy precision, Jaeggy conjures up the ghost of a girlhood where perfection is a fetish." - Aurelie Jane Sheehan, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Sweet Days of Discipline, superbly translated by Tim Parks, is inspired by her childhood in a Swiss boarding school in the 1950s and focuses on the torment of adolescence. (...) Jaeggy explores the thin line between order and madness and illustrates with perfect precision how swiftly loneliness can turn into despair." - Lucy Popescu, Times Literary Supplement

  • "I beati anni del castigo contains a fragile plot. Events have little value; what matters are the emotions unleashed by those events. The details of the boarding-school routine are delicately imbued with an unbalanced, maniacal quality and with nuances of emotion woven and unraveled simultaneously. Fleur Jaeggy has an extraordinary ability to create character and atmosphere." - Rosario Ferreri, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Sweet Days of Discipline was, more or less, abandoned in her youth by the adults in her life. There was no real home for her: her parents were divorced, her mother living in Brasil and sending letters of instruction to the schools she attends but little more, while when she saw her father they generally stayed in hotels. For a while:

they'd left me with an elderly lady, a grand-mother. One day she decided she couldn't put up with me any more, she said I was a savage.
       And that's how she came to spend: "the best years of my life in boarding school. From eight to seventeen."
       Sweet Days of Discipline offers glimpses of many of those years, but focusses on the time she is in her mid-teens, when she attends the Bausler Institut in the Appenzell, in Switzerland -- the area, so the book begins, where "Robert Walser used to take his many walks when he was in the mental hospital in Herisau".
       Some of the girls make an impression -- though not her roommate, a German girl whose name she can't even recall. There's the daughter of an African president. There's the newcomer, magnificently red-haired Micheline. And there's Frédérique, on whom the narrator has a crush, and who has to leave the school when her father dies.
       A few episodes are described, but for the most part it is atmosphere that is recalled. The Bausler Institut isn't a place of rigorous academics -- at least not for the narrator. Classes or studying barely merit a mention. More important, and making a much greater impression, are the relationships. Often they are more wished-for than real, with a great deal of passion but little that is acted on. The narrator, in particular, does little: a younger girl might slip into her bed, hoping to become her favourite, but is promptly kicked out, and her own longing for Frédérique remains largely simply that.
       It's an aimless, narrowly circumscribed life that is described here. The narrator claims that at the boarding schools she attended: "a sort of senile childhood was protracted almost to insanity." The mix of childish innocence and world-weariness (bordering on senility) is certainly well-captured. And the narrator even takes some pleasure in this pointless sort of life, the discipline of school providing at least some sort of stability and certainty in a world where adults (at least in her family) offer no hold:
And perhaps they were the best years, I thought. Those years of discipline. There was a kind of elation, faint but constant throughout all those days of discipline, the sweet days of discipline.
       (Those looking for firmer sorts of discipline, of young girls in school uniforms, (with perhaps a swish of leather belts or crops) will, however, be disappointed: that's not what's found in these pages. In fact, like most everything else in the world the narrator inhabits, even sexual desire and expression is largely atrophied or dulled.)

       Sweet Days of Discipline is a nicely told tale: Jaeggy has the voice down just right for most of the short book, and describes the general feeling of these schooldays convincingly. There's some good observation, and a decent sense of humour (when her parents look for one last boarding school for her -- at a point when one thinks they can't do any worse than they already have in what they inflict upon their daughter -- she writes: "They found a school near a lake, Lake Zug, renowned for its cherry flans"). The dreamily-episodic presentation seems to be appropriate for the decade wasted in these schools, and at just over a hundred pages the book is entirely sufferable. It's not truly compelling, however, though it does have a lingering resonance.

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Sweet Days of Discipline: Reviews: Other books by Fleur Jaeggy under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Italian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Swiss-born author Fleur Jaeggy lives in Milan. She writes in Italian, and is married to publisher Roberto Calasso.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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