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3.6 out of 5 stars47
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I thought this was a fantastic book. I wouldn't normally have bothered with it because I didn't like the sound of it at all - it has an off-putting title, it is set among wealthy teenagers in an American International School and has a plot synopsis which sounds like Dead Poets Society written by a French existentialist - but I am lucky that a friend whose judgement I trust recommended it to me. It turned out to be one of the best-written, most thoughtful and most intellectually and emotionally engaging books I have read for a long time, and I found myself as gripped by it as by a really good thriller.

The story is of an inspirational teacher and his relationships with his students. Alexander Maksik manages to make this both fresh and enthralling. He tells the story through three first-person narratives, the teacher himself and two of his students, one male and one female. All three voices are brilliantly done: distinctive, convincing and with real insight into their characters, and every character in the book is wholly believable. I thought he showed exceptional insight into the sheer thrill of being an inspiring teacher and into being a thoughtful 17-year-old with that nagging sense that other people have the answers but you don't. What really makes the book stand out, though, is the way the characters wrestle with ideas, idealism, the tension between what you want to be and what you find you can be, and the difference between our public faces and private interiors. I found this utterly riveting and extremely moving in places.

The prose is excellent. It is readable, unfussy and unpretentious, and sometimes very affecting. It would be too much of a spoiler to say exactly why, but in context I physically winced at the sentence "Then I heard the toilet flush, the deep groaning of liquid being sucked down into the bowels of the building." The book is peppered with unobtrusive gems of wit or insight, and Maksik also paints a subtle portrait of an institution which, very recognisably, professes to care deeply for its students but regards weekly sessions with a stranger who has recently done a brief counselling course as far more valuable than genuine human companionship and warmth.

Even if you can't bear the idea of reading about wealthy American teenagers in Paris, are allergic to French existentialists and shudder at the thought of a school-set book, I would urge you to give this book a try. I have a lot of sympathy with all those views but I thought it was absolutely outstanding. Very warmly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There's a lot to like about Alexander Maksik's first novel - the clean economy of the writing, interesting characters that are explored in depth in an intensely driven storyline that switches in perspective between three people at an American school in Paris for the children of rich diplomats and ex-patriots. At the centre of this triangle is an inspirational teacher of literature, William Silver, the kind of teacher that young impressionable people gravitate towards as he opens their eyes to a new and exciting way of looking at the world. There is a difference however between how he is perceived by young seventeen year-old loner Gilad - who has been shuttled from one international city to another for much of his life - and how he is perceived by Marie, a naively excitable young student who intends to follow-up a crush on the handsome teacher. There's also a difference of perception between how they see Mr Silver and how he sees his relationship with them, and in those differences there is inevitably going to be disappointment and potentially even more serious consequences.

The inspirational teacher who proves to be not necessarily flawed as much as revealed to be as human as anyone else, is nothing new in literature or cinema, so if there is any corresponding disappointment with the reader and the expectations they have with You Deserve Nothing in this respect, well, that somehow fits with the nature of the novel and its dealing with unreasonable expectations. Taken on its own terms, the novel and the writing could however hardly be better, never putting a foot wrong, propelling the reader through the story, deeply involving them in the lives of the characters through its switching perspective, building up a powerful tension through nothing more than the interaction between a group of people and a sense of grim inevitability that everything is going to come crashing down and someone or everyone is going to be badly hurt.

With frequent asides to literary examples - perfectly integrated into the story through Silver's lessons with his class - there's a sense that the author is aware of operating on a level of self-awareness, considering the nature of literature to inspire, to open minds, but also the fact that it can also be just playing with words on a page, having nothing meaningful to relate directly to life, even if it thinks it's saying something important. Everything depends on the perception and the willing input of the reader to invest it with significance.

That applies to literature, it also applies to how the young people see Mr Silver, and it also applies to You Deserve Nothing itself. On the one hand, the novel brilliantly illuminates its subject, but on the other hand, it uses other literary works to give itself depth and meaning, while ultimately it doesn't make any new observations of its own or say anything important. I think that's intentional in on the part of Maksik, or at least, he's fully aware of the novel's self-contradictions and plays on them cleverly and brilliantly while at the same time creating a work that is intense and involving in its own right. Some readers might be expecting more than that, but, as the novel shows, life can be full of disappointments if you want to look for them.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 February 2012
In the blurb at the front this author is compared to J.D.Salinger, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Donna Tartt and others but I can't help feeling that this list should merely be used as a guide to who this writer aspires to, as I certainly wouldn't put him in the same class as these luminaries of fiction. I found the whole thing a poor man's 'Dead Poet's Society' interspersed with a rather unbelievable romance between pupil and teacher that seemed entirely superficial and cliched to the nth degree. The only parts of the book I found remotely interesting were some of the existential discussions between the affirmation seeking teacher and his pupils in relation to certain texts they were studying but I had no real empathy, or indeed any kind of emotional connection to any of the characters. I felt that the atmosphere of Paris was quite well-drawn, and this along with the discussions previously mentioned raised this from a 2* to a 3* review. Probably not an author that I would seek out again...
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I thought this was a fantastic book. I wouldn't normally have bothered with it because I didn't like the sound of it at all - it has an off-putting title, it is set among wealthy teenagers in an American International School and has a plot synopsis which sounds like Dead Poets Society written by a French existentialist - but I am lucky that a friend whose judgement I trust recommended it to me. It turned out to be one of the best-written, most thoughtful and most intellectually and emotionally engaging books I have read for a long time, and I found myself as gripped by it as by a really good thriller.

The story is of an inspirational teacher and his relationships with his students. Alexander Maksik manages to make this both fresh and enthralling. He tells the story through three first-person narratives, the teacher himself and two of his students, one male and one female. All three voices are brilliantly done: distinctive, convincing and with real insight into their characters, and every character in the book is wholly believable. I thought he showed exceptional insight into the sheer thrill of being an inspiring teacher and into being a thoughtful 17-year-old with that nagging sense that other people have the answers but you don't. What really makes the book stand out, though, is the way the characters wrestle with ideas, idealism, the tension between what you want to be and what you find you can be, and the difference between our public faces and private interiors. I found this utterly riveting and extremely moving in places.

The prose is excellent. It is readable, unfussy and unpretentious, and sometimes very affecting. It would be too much of a spoiler to say exactly why, but in context I physically winced at the sentence "Then I heard the toilet flush, the deep groaning of liquid being sucked down into the bowels of the building." The book is peppered with unobtrusive gems of wit or insight, and Maksik also paints a subtle portrait of an institution which, very recognisably, professes to care deeply for its students but regards weekly sessions with a stranger who has recently done a brief counselling course as far more valuable than genuine human companionship and warmth.

Even if you can't bear the idea of reading about wealthy American teenagers in Paris, are allergic to French existentialists and shudder at the thought of a school-set book, I would urge you to give this book a try. I have a lot of sympathy with all those views but I thought it was absolutely outstanding. Very warmly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a story based around an affair between a schoolteacher (Will) and a student at his school (Marie), told from the perspective of Will, Marie and Gilad (another student who is oblivious to the affair, but provides a different perspective on Will.

My initial impression was that the writing was competent, but the story and characters a little dull. The equivalent of reading a story about a celebrity in Vanity Fair while you are waiting in the dentist's office. I was spectacularly unengaged by the characters, who all seemed a bit whiny and monotonous. And then on page 117 something happens, and the story suddenly starts to gain pace. It is really vry cleverly written, and the sort of story where much more is revealed by what is not said than what is said. The author is well aware of this, and even has a few pages where Will and his students discuss the lens of the reader. I found myself actually caring about these characters, and wondering about their unvoiced thoughts. In fact, I got so sucked into the story, that I couldn't put it down, and finished it the very same day.

So... From my perspective, it gets off to a slow start, but is ultimately subtle and gratifying. A few of the smaller characters are caricatures (the head teacher being a particularly amusing example), but this doesn't detract from the story. A good read, if you are interested in human nature and character motivations.
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on 15 April 2012
Cannot understand why this book has been so well reviewed. I found most of the dialogue phoney or artificial sounding, and, as another reviewer noted, too frequent use of people saying "dude". I have lived in Paris and found the descriptions not especially evocative and just what a tourist might experience as most of the cafes, bars, etc that the characters go to are all in an extremely touristy part of Paris. I gather from reading reviews and looking on the Internet, that the plot is based on real events, if that is the case, maybe it explains why nothing much ever happens. I kept waiting for something to happen; teacher has an affair with a student and gets fired--not much of a plot. Comparisons to The Secret History seem particularly unfounded. Also, if the main character is the author, he seems quite full of himself, and why he should think so highly of himself is unclear. Someone recommended this to me as my children go to a French school, but also thought the atmosphere completely unlike the French school I am familiar with, though I hear it is really the Amercian School, which would have an American atmosphere, not that that comes across in the book either. A lot of people write about his lack of morality, if the book is based on true events, but I suppose many writers do write about things that have happened to them (though I can understand why the real people wouldn't like how their characters are portrayed), I just think, ultimately it isn't that well written or interesting. A minor point is he has the mother of a character going to the Pyramide in the Louvre in 1980, when, in fact, it was not built until 1989. Lazy research, like the rest of the book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 September 2014
What makes a popular teacher stray from teaching into cultivating his own popularity? Will Silver is one such teacher – his classes are wonderfully lively – he challenges his pupils but there is an element of giving in his nature that makes him go the extra mile for these mainly rich, cultivated and attractive young people. He believes in them, he gives them the gift of knowledge and competence. They attend an international high school in Paris. Their parents are rich and Will’s classes are something special.

We experience events through each of the main characters in turn. One student, a Muslim, causes problems when the classes turn to a discussion on Existentialism, when he is asked to imagine the non-existence of God. There is an incident on the metro which also causes problems. Not everyone is caught up by Will, however, and there are moments when his popularity is challenged. But Will is sincere, strong, dedicated, and those who would challenge him are in the minority.

Then he is pursued by Marie, a beautiful young girl. He rejects her at first, but she is persistent and eventually he succumbs. His disgrace when the affair is discovered leads to his dismissal. So far everything that happens is predictable – there’s no surprise. In spite of this there is interest in the story, mainly built up by the intelligence and charm that are Will’s gifts. His charisma makes this story worthwhile. Yes it’s predictable, but the personalities within Will’s classes are lively and It’s an enjoyable story, even though it’s one that has been told many times. I’m a person who loves books – I devour them. This had little new to say, but its manner of telling the story made up for the predictability for me.
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on 19 September 2012
Quite an enjoyable read - loved the Paris setting, but began to dislike Will, the central protagonist, more and more: shades of "Dead Poet's Society" (without the endearing qualities) in the rather creepy, calculated way he treated his senior class, and clearly thought of himself as terribly clever in his approach to teaching. Told from the point of view of Will and two of his students, the narrative works well on the whole, with some very poignant moments in terms of teenage relationships and angst, even if elements of the storyline were rather predictable.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I read this book some months ago I was surprised at my own reaction. I hated it.
I attempted to write a review but wasn't happy with what I'd written so gave up.

I read some of the reviews and at that time the book was well received. Words being used to describe it were all highly intellectual and I thought perhaps I was just out of my depth.
I felt uncomfortable while reading this book, it reminded me of Nabokov's Lolita. Middle-aged man lusts after a much younger woman and has all kinds of reasons and rationalisations for doing so. This is a story of a tutor exploiting his position with a young student. Except that it is based heavily on his own real life. So is that really a novel? This would be closer to being a memoir, or at least it would be more honest to have written it as a memoir. I was interested to read that in fact the author Alexander Maksik has now been exposed as using his real life in this novel. Also, students that have been to the American School of Paris know who the young woman is. He could be exploiting her all over again. If you want you can read more on this you can via this book's reviews on Amazon.com.

For me the actual plot is nothing new or interesting. The bones of it are: sad tutor wants to cling on to youth by being "popular" with his students and seducing a young female student. I personally was not really impressed even by his writing. I personally didn't feel it was particularly original or inspiring. I think it is unfair to J.D.Salinger to compare it to his book Catcher In The Rye. That was a book that inspired young people and is still regarded as a classic.

I am aware how out of step I am with almost all the other reviews are. I haven't bothered to write about the storyline because that is well covered by the other reviews.
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on 28 April 2015
I had high hopes for this book, and it destroyed them spectacularly.

I wanted this book to make think, to get me lost in Paris, make me question a student-teacher relationship, make me question everything. It didn't. The book was well written I suppose but the premise and content were appalling. His teaching which was meant to seem charming remained only ever mildly interesting, the picture he painted of Paris was hit and miss, often it felt like he just threw a bunch of place names into the description just to prove he knew them. And yes, the student-teacher relationship, I don't know how he meant to portray it, but it remained morally reprehensible throughout, a complete abuse of power and there was never any self-condemnation. I didn't expect to be morally outraged by this particular theme as I read a novel with a similar premise which I was okay with but it was just so painful to read.

I wanted a decent, thought provoking book, instead of I got morally ambiguous chick-lit.
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