Novella a Day in May 2022 No.12

Sweet Days of Discipline – Fleur Jaeggy (1989, trans. Tim Parks, 1991) 101 pages

Sweet Days of Discipline is told in a straightforward, clear style, as is evident from its opening line:

“At fourteen I was a boarder at a school in the Appenzell.”

The narrator is a loner at her 1950’s boarding school, full of the confusing, contradictory desires of someone on the brink of adulthood.

“I ate an apple and walked. I was looking for solitude, and perhaps the absolute. But I envied the world.”

She has to sleep in the part of the school for younger girls as there isn’t room for her. Her mother is in Brazil, her father is disinterested. She gets up at 5am every day to take long solitary walks. Then Frédérique, a banker’s daughter, arrives into this isolated and lonely life. Frédérique has a remote, unknowable quality. She is a nihilist and the narrator vows to dominate her: 

“I still thought that to get something you had to go straight for your goal, whereas it’s only distractions, uncertainty, distance that bring us closer to our targets, and then it is the target that strikes us.”

The story isn’t overtly sexual and the sado-masochism is burgeoning, implicit rather than explicit. The narrator is scarcely aware of the sexual drives that surround her “passione” for Frédérique. It’s a psychologically complex and unarticulated morass of feeling, and it stays that way as she looks back from adulthood.

“Even now, I can’t bring myself to say I was in love with Frédérique, it’s such an easy thing to say.”

Frédérique remains mysterious and unknowable. She has a quality which sets her apart from her peers, which is both compelling and disturbing.

“She already knew everything, from the generations that came before her. She had something the others didn’t have; all I could do was justify her talent as a gift passed on from the dead.”

Although the narrator is looking back, Sweet Days of Discipline is not remotely sentimental. It has a brittle clarity which means that although very little happens, reading it is an immersive experience.

“And perhaps they were the best years, I thought. Those years of discipline. There was a kind of elation, faint but constant throughout all those years of discipline, the sweet days of discipline.”

15 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2022 No.12

    • Thanks Simon! I’m glad you think so, because the first time I did NADIM I planned carefully. but this year I’ve just gone with what I feel like reading next. I’m really enjoying your choices too!

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    • This is the first of hers I’ve read so I’m not sure if it’s typical of her style or not, but I think you might like this Kaggsy. I’d be interested to read more by her so good to hear you’ve had a positive experience.

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  1. I’ve seen quite a lot of love (or admiration?) for this author on Twitter, but not many reviews or descriptions of her work. That cool, distancing effect definitely comes across it the quotes you’ve chosen. She sounds a little like Tove Ditlevsen, whose Copenhagen Trilogy I loved despite the stark/brittle style.

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    • Yes I think she’s easier to admire rather than love Jacqui, because of that cool style. I’ve not read Tove Ditlevsen though I definitely want to, it’s interesting to hear the comparison. I quite enjoy the style so I’ll look forward to the trilogy.

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