cover image Sweet Days of Discipline

Sweet Days of Discipline

Fleur Jaeggy, trans. by Tim Parks. New Directions, $10.95 (101p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1235-9

Jaeggy, a Swiss-born writer living in Italy, gives her narrator an abundance of memorable lines describing a boarding school set in idyllic Switzerland. Recalling the constant machinations and undercurrents there, she comments, "A boarding school is like a harem." And she seems to be right: less time is spent studying than courting favored friends. The narrator is particularly intrigued by Frederique, a disdainful girl who claims that she has "an old woman's hands," which the narrator hears as a compliment. But then a frivolous new student named Micheline--she has red hair and looks "a bit like Gilda"--causes the narrator to abandon Frederique by promising that she will give a huge ball at which all the students will dance with her charming father. Tim Parks does an admirable job of keeping the ice-cold language flowing. But the novel leaves a sense that its story line is a metaphor for something else, although it is never completely clear what, and after a while this vague profundity starts to get tiring; the ambiguous ending does not improve matters. (May)