This short novel launched Robert Musil onto the literary scene when it was first published by in 1906. Since then there have been claims that it was an account of his own school life as well as explaining the German outlook, the outbreak of the first world war and the ultimate rise of fascism.
J. M. Coetzee gives an interesting account in his introduction to this novel, but ultimately to explain all the intricacies and ideas arising in this would take something bigger than the actual story to fully explain. Due to this you shouldn't be put off by its smallness, because ultimately you will get something out of this akin to a novel five times the size.
Torless (we never get to know his first name) is sent to the military boarding school called 'W'. The education at these schools were below that which was offered at the more classical gymnasia, but was of a good enough standard. From Torless' point of view we see what happens when one of the pupils is caught stealing money. With a group of boys deciding that they should offer correction, the matter is kept from the school authorities. What happens then is the basis of the novel. From a beating this story goes much further, the boy who is punished has to undergo more humiliating treatment that is sexual, and more like a bdsm relationship.
With bullying at schools as well as other places frequently cropping up in the news this book still has the ability to shock, as it did at the time of publication. Some people may find this a bit disturbing to read, but it is well worth it, and the story will echo a long time afterwards, with its amorality, expressionism and psychology.