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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jean-Christophe Valtat

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To purchase 03

Title: 03
Author: Jean-Christophe Valtat
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 84 pages
Original in: French
Availability: 03 - US
03 - UK
03 - Canada
03 - Canada (French)
03 - France
  • French title: 03
  • Translated by Mitzi Angel

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Our Assessment:

B : decent youthful introspection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Criterion . 11/2010 Stefan Beck
The New Yorker . 6/9/2010 James Wood

  From the Reviews:
  • "Valtatís embroidered, sometimes cringe-makingly exaggerated prose stands in for the hormonally heightened experience of adolescence itself." - Stefan Beck, The New Criterion

  • "Nothing happens in 03. (...) It is a risky and ambitious book, though it does not seem "experimental" as such, in part because it is so grounded in the real, in the boreom and self-aggrandizement of being a teen-ager. The narrator is morose, aggressive, silly defiant, as we all were; unlike some of us, he is also funny, intelligent, lyrically precise, and frequently self-aware." - James Wood, The New Yorker

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:

       In 03 the narrator describes his twelfth-grade passion for an unreachable girl, spinning out a monologue of self-analysis, a portrait of the artist as a still very young man.
       The girl he has his eye on is, as he puts it, "slightly retarded"; every day he sees her while he waits for his bus, as she is collected by a van in which the other passengers are also disabled, presumably to go to some institute or program. She seems stuck in time, her body frozen: "at a jarring, already awkward fourteen years of age", and part of her appeal is that she is the very embodiment of how he himself feels. Despite being completely 'normal' -- and even considered advanced, in some respects -- he cannot help but feel in every sense retarded.
       He can't bring himself to even take the small step of crossing the street to approach the girl, the obstacles to any meeting -- she is always led by her mother, he doesn't know what time her van returns and thus when he might catch her after school -- seemingly insurmountable (also, of course: conveniently so). He understands what he's projecting on this girl, and how the impossibility of his love makes this journey of self-discovery possible, given how actual, adult love is also still beyond him. And so, for example, he recognizes:

I wanted to turn this little retarded girl I adored, she who would soon be out of reach if I didn't find the nerve to cross the road, into an allegory (though I didn't know the word) of my own handicaps and my friends'
       While a process of maturation would inevitably push him into adulthood, he is also fascinated by how she will remain unchanged, frozen physically and mentally in time -- and is also drawn to this, even as he recognizes that she won't remain in any figurative state of innocence, either (something that he finds troubling, also because he is incapable of doing anything about it -- yet another form of teen-age impotence he feels).
       03 is a fairly convincing cri de cœur of adolescent confusion, the approach at least a relatively unusual one -- even if Valtat goes a bit overboard with the mentally-disabled aspect: beside the girl there's also "Jean-François, the neighborhood idiot", and his aunt looks after children with Down syndrome in a religious institution.
       Typically French-introspective, the self-obsession can be a bit much, but it is a fairly accomplished work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 March 2010

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03: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Christophe Valtat was born in 1968.

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