When chancing upon this humble book in the shop a year or so ago, I must confess that, what drew me towards it was its intriguing cover*.
But, despite its pretty face and equally interesting blurb, I had never expected to become quite so swept up in the tastes, smells, sights and sounds of the Paris Maskik painted. I never expected to become so utterly absorbed in a world in which societal norms are constantly challenged and boundaries irreversibly crossed. Maksik dares to blur the lines between consensual love and paedophilia; between teacher and student and between duty and desire. And he does so without insult or malice, by highlighting that rarely in life are people ever merely victim or villain.
The novel is set in modern-day Paris at an international school in the capital. It follows the lives of Alex (or Mr Silver), a charismatic English teacher and his students as his unorthodox approach to literature impacts upon their lives. Told from multiple narrative perspectives, including Alex and his student, Marie, the story gives a fascinating and unusual insight into the unique relationship between students and their teachers.
From very early on in the book, it becomes clear that many of Alex’s students see their teacher as a role model, idol and for some, love interest. He is clearly viewed as attractive but, more universally, as a “life changer” through the challenging ideas he poses in his lessons – a characteristic which his colleague Mia is at pains to liken to a “cult”.
Maksik explores what happens when a teacher chooses to act upon their feelings towards a student and vocalise the damning words that should have remained unspoken. He delves into a world of love that transcends age, status and moral laws; exposing such intimacies in their whole and raw entirety.
This is a thought-provoking, insightful and poignant read which shakes the very foundations on which modern-day morals rest. Above all, Maksik’s debut novel makes us question modern-day conceptions of where right and wrong lie and forces us to confront an underlying tendency to view the world through a black and white lens.
*Well-worn is that old saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ but alas, I am guilty nevertheless and undoubtedly not alone. After all, there are so many works out there that you have to find some way of differentiating between them all!