6 October 2015

Emmanuel Carrère: La Classe de neige | Class Trip (1995)

Emmanuel Carrère's Classe de neige (called Class Trip in translation) is all about the troubles of Nicolas, whose specific age isn't given, but who is under twelve. Nicolas is one of nature's outsiders: he is easily frightened and has an over-active imagination, he is small for his age and the butt of his fellow schoolkids's jokes, and as for his father – well, that comes later.

The school is off for a two-week trip into the French Alps learning how to ski, which is a great opportunity for Nicolas to try to integrate, although his father insists that it's best for him to drive the whole four hundred kilometres plus with just himself and his son: he's used to driving as he's a sales rep in the prostheses field, and may well be carrying artificial limbs or whatever: and that's what he does.

But then he deposits his son at his destination without noticing that the bag containing everything Nicolas needs for the stay, fresh clothes, pyjamas, toothbrush, drawsheet (Nicolas still wets the bed), etc, has been left in the trunk of the car: Nicolas, who has to be updated on what has happened between the arrival of the school bus and and his own arrival, is in a huge mess because he has no pyjamas to wear or even the wherewithal to brush his teeth.

Slightly ludicrously, the giant pupil Hodmann lends him a pair of pyjamas (the others not volunteering owing to Nicolas's urinary misfunctions, and of course because this is Nicolas anyway), but Hodmann seems a little menacing: not the kind of guy you'd neccessarily want as a friend, but a kind of friendship nevertheless develops between the two kids. But all along there's this atmosphere of menace, of impending doom. Will it come to Nicolas, and what will Hodmann have to do with it (if at all)?

Carrère's narrative is linear, apart from Chapter 26 (with just five chapters to go), which is very short and set twenty years on, when Nicolas is passing by Trocadéro, and his name is called by Hodmann, who's sitting on a bench drinking wine and eating meat. He shouts Nicolas's name, threatens him with a knife, and Nicolas doesn't say anything but just runs away from the danger.

Nicolas is not only still an outsider, but even more of one. Although never known alive, the presence of René, a young kid from a local village near where the ski class was situated, is felt very much in this book: René was missing, and shortly afterwards found murdered and mutilated. When the highly agreeable and tactful animateur Patrick drives Nicolas back home before the end of the trip, when he fills up with petrol at a motorway service station, he has to avoid the displayed front pages of the newspapers declaring Nicolas's father a 'monster'. He takes the boy back to his mother, although Nicolas knows that she will already have concocted excuses about his father, such as that he's in hospital but for some reason can't be seen, or that he's dead but for some reason his grave can't be visited. Nicolas knows that in his own life there will be no pardon, although of course there is nothing at all to pardon him for: he outsiders himself, but is also outsidered by others. His father has in effect destroyed him as well as René: both are now voiceless.

My other posts on Emmanuel Carrère:

Emmanuel Carrère: La Moustache | The Mustache
Emmanuel Carrère: D'autres vies que la mienne | Lives Other than My Own
Emmanuel Carrère: Un roman russe

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