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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Class Trip

by
Emmanuel Carrère


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Class Trip / The Mustache



Title: Class Trip
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 143 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in Class Trip / The Mustache - US
in Class Trip / The Mustache - UK
in Class Trip / The Mustache - Canada
La classe de neige - Canada
in Class Trip / The Mustache - India
La classe de neige - France
Schneetreiben - Deutschland
La settimana bianca - Italia
Una semana en la nieve - España
  • French title: La classe de neige
  • Also published together with The Mustache as Two by Carrère
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale
  • La classe de neige was made into a film in 1998, directed by Claude Miller
  • Note that one chapter has (clearly intentionally) been omitted in the English translation; see also this note

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Our Assessment:

B+ : excellent presentation of a child's perspective, effectively unsettling story

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2005 Gary Indiana
FAZ . 24/8/1996 Ina Hartwig
The LA Times . 1/1/1997 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/2/1997 Mary Hawthorne
Salon . 12/2/1997 Charles Taylor


  Review Consensus:

  Well-told but what's the point ?

  From the Reviews:
  • "The most unsettling aspect of Nicolas's violently surreal stories is his own passive relation to them. (...) The revealed secret of Class Trip raises even darker questions than it answers, and like much of Carrère's writing to date seems written around those elements of consciousness that remain unquantified and inexplicable, though they certainly exist and may only be accessible by inference." - Gary Indiana, Bookforum

  • "Carrère hat sich viel vorgenommen. Er will nicht nur eine Kinderseele studieren, in der die Angst (des Vaters vor sich selbst) fieberhaft Wurzeln treibt, sondern darüber hinaus eine Kriminalgeschichte erzählen, die diese grausam übertrifft (.....) Den Sog des Unheimlichen hat Carrère besser im Griff als den poetischen Feinbereich." - Ina Hartwig, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Class Trip, a novella by French author Emmanuel Carrere, is a manipulation that is unusually distasteful because of its subject: the destruction, psychological and otherwise, of a little boy. (...) The author has written with such acute intuition of how a child can suffer that it is only gradually that we realize that he is writing without affect. Nicolas' story is a setup." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Mr. Carrere's novel is suffused with an atmosphere of menace that has less to do with what actually takes place than with what the reader fears is about to take place. (...) Ellipses abound in Mr. Carrere's novel; wisely, he has chosen to reveal too little rather than too much. But in doing so he cheats a bit, asking us to fill in too many of the blanks and to suspend our disbelief when the logic doesn't quite work. Still, the aftereffects of Class Trip are potent" - Mary Hawthorne, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) meticulously nuanced stunt. At the end of it, I had the same feeling I had at the conclusion of the Dutch film The Vanishing. There was no denying the talent involved, but what was the point ? (...) I don't know that I've ever encountered such a complete understanding of the morbid, self-pitying fantasies outcast children are prone to." - Charles Taylor, Salon

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Class Trip centers completely around young Nicolas, and is set entirely during a (likely still elementary school) class ski trip [at least in the English translation, but see this note]; almost the entire narrative is presented, slightly indirectly, from Nicolas' perspective: it's practically only what he sees and hears and is present for that's presented.
       The trip goes wrong for Nicolas from the start: indeed, it begins with him being driven to the chalet where the class is staying by his father, the day after all the other kids had taken a bus there -- in what turns out to be the ultimate in ironic parental overprotectiveness. After a horrific school bus crash a few days earlier, Nicolas' father preferred to drive the boy there himself -- easily stamping the boy as even more of an outsider. Matters are not helped when Nicolas' father drives off (in this pre-cellphone age) with the bag with everything that Nicolas' brought for the trip, from clothes to protective rubber sheet in case he wet the bed.
       The supervising teachers are friendly and helpful, and try to make it easy on Nicolas, but his classmates are not particularly sympathetic. Still, it's the tallest kid in class, and the one everyone fears, Hodkann, that lets Nicolas borrow a pair of his pajamas -- and takes him a bit under his wing.
       Hodkann -- himself fatherless -- is curious about Nicolas' father -- and more so once he hears he's a traveling salesman in surgical supplies, with a trunk full of artificial limbs. And while Hodkann reaches out to Nicolas, he's not above joking, either:

     "Me," said Hodkann calmly, "if I were your father, I'd use you for demonstrations. I'd cut off your arms and legs, I'd fit on the artificial ones, and I'd show you to my clients like that. It'd make a great advertisement."
       And:
     Hodkann's interest in his father bothered Nicolas. He even wondered if the other boy hadn't taken him under his wing to get close to his father, to win his confidence.
       But he doesn't have to worry about that. They don't hear from Nicolas' father, who seems not to have noticed that he's still carrying the bag around, and since he continued on the road they have no way of contacting him. In any case, readers are at least somewhat prepared for something to happen with regard to the father from the novel's opening sentence on:
     For a long time afterward -- even now -- Nicolas tried to remember the last words his father spoke to him.
       While it may seem to apply just to that instant -- the last thing his father said to him when he dropped him off at the chalet -- there is also a hint of a more complete finality to whatever those words were, suggesting the forgotten words were the last Nicolas' father ever spoke to him.
       Class Trip is full of such hints, Carrère presenting so very well the world as seen by a child, from whom much is hidden, and who doesn't understand much, but who gets a sense of the sheer awfulness of what has happened. And something very awful does happen.
       Nicolas gets by on the class trip; it's not an unmitigated disaster, with one of the teachers also taking him under his wing and being very supportive. When Nicolas hears about the disappearance of a local boy from a nearby hamlet, nine-year-old René, he tries to use it as a means to keep Hodkann interested in him, spinning a tale of having seen a suspicious man drive off in a van, and of organ traffickers who surgically remove children's organs (made more plausible by Nicolas being able to claim that his father knew of them through his work -- and making up a story that his own younger brother had been abducted and had had a kidney removed).
       The actual story turns out to be a different one, with Carrère creepily and effectively suggesting what Nicolas can't truly piece together for himself, but which eventually becomes fairly obvious to all. It is a truth beyond words (making for lots of silence by the end), both unspeakable horror and personal tragedy.
       Carrère does an excellent job of presenting the world as Nicolas understands it -- or doesn't understand it (and, finally, doesn't want to understand it), especially the childish escapism in flights of fantasy and embellishment, the thoughts behind his words and actions (and silence), and the weight of his troubled home life. The affectless narrative makes the horrible story even more powerful (as does the fact that the horror is always only implicit, and no one ever comes face to face with it). It's a well-crafted and powerful work.
       Note: The French version of this novel has 31 chapters, the English translation only 30. What gives ? Yes, they simply cut one of the chapters -- fundamentally changing the book.
       In the chapter in question, which comes towards but not right at the end of the novel, Nicolas encounters Hodkann in Paris' Trocadéro, twenty years after the fact. The brief encounter shines considerable light on the story and changes the fundamental feel of it, in particular because it shows that Nicolas has endured (which one might well not have expected him to, given how the novel ends) -- and that it is Hodkann who has, essentially, not made it.
       By omitting the chapter, the American publisher has altered the story; arguably it is 'tighter' and more self-contained without this glimpse of the future -- but Carrère clearly felt a need for some distance in the novel, to blunt the immediacy of the story; this is apparent in some of what is left over in the English (which hints, from the first line on, that the account is a retrospective one from a considerable distance), but only relatively confusingly so. The missing chapter also shifts more of the reader's attention onto the figure of Hodkann, whereas without it Nicolas seems even more the focus
       Perhaps the author condoned such fiddling with his book -- but surely the least the American publishers could have done was own up to it, and note somewhere, at least in small print, that they'd messed with the text.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 July 2010

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Links:

Class Trip: Reviews: La classe de neige - the film: Other books by Emmanuel Carrere under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Emmanuel Carrère was born in 1957. He has written numerous books, which have been widely translated.

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© 2010-2011 the complete review

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