Printer Friendly

Sweet Days of Discipline.

Girlhood is not sweet in Fleur Jaeggy's short novel Sweet Days of Discipline. At fifteen, the narrator is wasted and wrung out by eight years in boarding schools. She wakes at five every morning and walks, "looking for solitude, and perhaps the absolute." Bleary and desperate, she finds little comfort in the landscape surrounding her school in post-world War II Switzerland. Who would? Her parents are figureheads - mother dispatching orders from Brazil (meet Germans, make a friend, learn to bake), father ancient, cold, and itinerant (he keeps a diary of when they see each other, as formal as a train schedule). Her home is boarding school, where nuns and headmistresses require obedience, not love, and girls learn quickly a hierarchal structure. One mere prefete stands at the head of the stairs at bedtime and requires all her charges to kiss her hand on the way up. Thank yous, even when refused, are expected.

A killing control game plays itself out girl to girl. The narrator regrets saying no to a would-be young friend, for by doing so she "lost a slave, without getting any pleasure out of it." When she meets Frederique, the new boarder who seems to be "walking behind her own coffin," the narrator wants to conquer her - not play hopscotch. Frederique is a formidable, ethereal girl about whom there is "an atmosphere of punishment, an absence of lightness." The two girls never speak of their parents or their histories. They don't touch: "With us there was a kind of fanaticism that prevented any physical expression." But between them a bond is forged, intense and bloodless. The narrator is in love with death.

The destructive elements in this book run deep. The penury of days, years of discipline fastens onto a soul just as obsessive love hooks you into hate. With icy precision, Jaeggy conjures up the ghost of a girlhood where perfection is a fetish.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Sheehan, Aurelie Jane
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:Double Jeopardy.
Next Article:At Sea.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters