School’s Out by Christophe Dufosse
School’s Out was the book recommended by my book group that meets in the local library. It is the eerie frist novel written by Christophe du Fosse. This book has received terrific critical acclaim and Dufosse makes his debt to Stephen King clear in one of the novel’s two epigraphs. However, I do not think Stephen King needs to worry about losing a large part of his readership to this author. There is a vague air of menace throughout the narrative which is too long, in my opinion.
The year is 1995; the action takes place in France from February to May. The story opens with the suicide of Éric Capadis, who has been teaching 9F, a class composed of boys and girls aged between 14 and 15. No one understands why Capadis threw himself out of the classroom window. His colleague, Pierre Hoffman, is the narrator of Christophe Dufossé’s eerie first novel. Hoffmann is a 32-year-old schoolteacher who works in a rural French town. Hoffman discovers the reasons for the suicide slowly and steadily as the story unfolds.
Capadis was very much a loner. He is still in his twenties but his hair had already begun to turn grey. Hoffman and Capadis both have a fear of physical and emotional involvement. They are both outsiders, sure of little at all.
The story is a bit laboured with similes and metaphors for my taste. The weather reflects Hoffman’s temperament: the sky is white, the trees bereft of leaves, and every bird is a harbinger of doom. Hoffman lives in a poor council flat. He only goes to parties arranged by other members of staff. Oddly, he seems to enjoy watching the other teachers getting drunk and behaving badly. He is only physically attracted by an Arab nurse called Nora and, sadly, by his sister Léonore who is unhappily married to a man who is bewildered by her indifference to him.
Class 9F are Gallic to the core, briefed as they are in the finer nuances of gloom. They lack the robust good humour of other authors. This novel suffers from severely heavy handed writing. When they talk to Hoffmann, they sound like everything is a chore. Dufossé chooses not to make them memorable. There is just an undercurrent of malice.
The scenes with Capadis’s parents and with Hoffmann and his sister show Dufossé to be a keen observer of behaviour.
Shaun Whiteside has produced an excellent translation of School’s Out. He captures the dispiriting tone of the original text. However, I did not enjoy this book. It was dull and uncomfortable throughout.