“From the bus stop across the street, it was hard to tell, but suddenly I understood, seeing the passengers in the van that picked her up every morning, that she was slightly retarded.”
A precocious teenager in a French suburb finds himself powerfully, troublingly drawn to the girl he sees every day on the way to school. As he watches and thinks about her, his daydreams—full of lyrics from Joy Division and the Smiths, fairy tales, Flowers for Algernon, sexual desire and fear, loneliness, rage for escape, impatience to grow up—reveal an entire adolescence. And this fleeting erotic obsession, remembered years later, blossoms into a meditation on what it means to be a smart kid, what it means to be dumb, and what it means to be in love with another person.
03 is a book about young love like none you have ever read. It marks the English-language debut of a unique French writer—one of the great stylists of his generation.
“Jean-Christophe Valtat’s novella 03 . . . written in one unbroken paragraph, about a teenage boy’s unrequited love for a mentally handicapped girl he sees every day at the bus stop, has an enormous, controlled rage. It roars, from the shallows of the dreariest French suburb, against such received ideas as the religion of childhood ‘innocence,’ the comforting notion that we all ‘grow’ and ‘develop,’ and the solace, offered by our teachers and our parents, that if we observe the proper rites our futures will be meaningful and wholesome . . . His book is at once Proustian and anti- Proustian: childhood and adolescence minutely, lyrically, philosophically examined, only to be given a contemptuous failing grade . . . 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 boredom 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
“[Valtat’s] hypersensitive high-school student listens to the Cure’s Pornography but speaks like someone out of Proust ...Valtat manages to re-create the exact unhappiness of lost youth.”—Fabrice Gabriel, Les Inrockuptibles
“A slim Proustian recollection with a vitriolic backbeat, Jean-Christophe Valtat’s novella 03 captures the obsessions of its teen narrator . . . Intellectually fierce . . . the story hits its stride when the narrator starts talking about songs by the Cure, at which point the prose turns so lucid, circuitous, and loaded with undetonated angst that it becomes an outright performance.” —Bookforum
""If there’s any justice in the world—and of course, 03’s narrator would insist that there isn’t—this beautifully bitter little book will become as instantly classic as the work of Morrissey and Marr."" —Emma Garman, Words Without Borders
""A book that’s a unique and insightful ... rumination on youth. 03 is a mix of beautiful and soiled thoughts presented in an unformed mess of confusion and truth. And, if memory serves, that’s exactly what the high school years were like."" — Kyle Olsen, Hipster Book Club