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“You Deserve Nothing” is the 2011 debut novel of Andrew Maksik set in Paris at an international school for children of rich parents whose jobs take them to various locations around the world.
The plot follows the interactions of a teacher and a young student and the aftermath of their taboo relationship.
It is narrated by three characters, Mr. Silver, Marie and Gilad. Each has such a unique voice that you forget entirely there is a middle man between you and the characters and you fall almost entirely under the illusion that these three people are sitting before you telling you their stories.
Written from the viewpoint seven years after the events that took place at the ISF, Gilad’s story reflects on his years of being dragged from city to city by his parents and their subsequent tormented marriage that is a point of great turmoil throughout Gilads’ chapters.
He is an easy to relate to character, being an introspective outsider who rejects the Americanisation of the International Schools he is made to attend and falling deeply in love with exploring the streets and lifestyle of Paris.
His admiration of Mr. Silver and the way he embraces the class discussions verges on a relationship similar to that held between the teacher played by Robin Williams and many of his students in”Dead Poets Society”.
There is a sense throughout the novel that Gilad is reflecting on the year in which he came of age. Making an unlikely ally of Colin, a character who starkly contrasts his own personality and later in the narrative, showing his father that he is no longer a boy who will stand idly by and do as he’s told.
Many reviews define Marie as a very a-typical teenage girl, however there is an underlying current to her character that perhaps could have been explored more fully by Maksik.
She is struggling to come to terms with the politics of High School and the trappings of love and sex. Portrayed as the seductress, and even sometimes a little over-obsessed, Maksik manages to re-tell her seventeen-year-old immaturity with a much more calm, adult voice.
Much of her early story sets around her disgust and near-apathy toward her ex-boyfriend, Gilad’s friend Colin, and her best friend, Ariel, who is portrayed as a somewhat manipulative and self-centred person.
As her relationship with Mr. Silver continues, she faces huge emotional upheaval when she falls pregnant and decides to terminate the pregnancy. This is by far the most poignant scene, and as the character plays out the fantasies she had at the time with subtle reflections of regret at not keeping the baby, it is hard not to feel completely involved.
Mr. Silver himself has, understandably, the most baggage, and though he seems to know how adored he is by bot his students and his co-worker, Mia, who spends her share of the story tip-toeing around her obvious affection for him.
There are parts of Mr. Silvers story that are poorly explored, with references to a woman named Isabella and the demise of their relationship – an under-explained anti-climax.
The way he cares for Marie, in an almost protective way leaves the reader feeling exactly what Marie feels at her first serious look at love, despite many readers needing to overcome the ethical folly of a teacher-student relationship.
Mr. Silvers feelings toward Marie are foggy at best, as he does seem to care for her but is never entirely emotionally engaged on the same level as her. Maksik seems to write Marie as the seductress an Silver as the innocent man who goes along with what is happening.
The first time I read this book, I was enthralled, captivated and consumed. Maksik’s style of writing has the ability to create panoramic and detailed visions of the Parisian streets with only a paragraph of short sentences full of meaning and memory.
This is perhaps why, the second time I read it and did a little research on Maksik himself, I was not surprised to find out the story is set almost entirely in fact. This is not stated at all through the book, but a little Googling will uncover the outrage of the students of Maksik, who taught at a school up until he was fired for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a young female student.
The reaction from the girl portrayed as the character “Marie” was, of course, the most outraged. She allegedly was hugely upset at the way her reaction to the school discovering the relationship was written as well as how she was written as the main provocature in the relationship – these two factors apparently being the main parts of the novel based entirely in fiction.
In this way, on my third re-read, the book was somewhat tainted as some of the writing about Mr. Silver comes off a little arrogant when you know it is the author opining about his own character and peoples’ reaction to him.
On further research, almost all of the students and teachers interviewed in the controversy after the book was released testified to Maksik’s incredible and unique teaching style.
This book should be read as purely fiction and, despite some questionable plot points, I remain in love with this book and the glorious and romantic imagery of Paris it left with me, as well as the characters of Marie and Gilad. These characters reveal an insight into High School and the awkward experience of growing out of your teenage years in a way many students could relate to.