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Indelible Doubt – Class Trip & The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrere

By posted at 5:22 am on January 22, 2007 4

coverA man shaves off his mustache and, consequently, his life. A boy gets lost within his dilemmas and insecurities, echoing downfalls of a mature man. Where does Emmanuel Carrere want the reader to end up? I’m unsure, but you can read Class Trip & The Mustache for yourself and try to figure it out.

Both stories are unforgiving, that is for sure. The reader faces two dilemmas (which I will attempt to convey in reverse order, having read The Mustache first). There is a man. He is convinced that he had a mustache for years. He jokes about shaving it off. And, in the first five pages of the short novel, he shaves off the mustache. And with it, his life – or what one can only presume to be his life.

Next, the reader is entangled in a series of existentialist debates. Did the unnamed protagonist really have a mustache? (OK, that one is a bit practical, but bear with me.) If yes, what does it mean – in terms of character – that he shaved it? If not, then what fuels his obsession with the belief?

Carrere takes the reader through an unsolvable quest of insecurities in The Mustache. The distinct, single-voice narrative – which is definitive of the author’s voice in Class Trip as well – runs, simultaneously, through both the protagonist’s and the reader’s mind. One cannot disconnect from the voice.

The narrative constitutes an integral part of Carrere’s mission: to draw the reader in to the story. One has the opportunity to see all the wrong turns the protagonist takes, yet the reader is helpless in dissociating with the narrative. Hence, it is easy to sympathize with the protagonist, his search of peace of mind, his comfort in the repetitive, and his focus on the mundane – even if he does it just to get grounded.

Class Trip presents much of the same dilemmas. Despite its publication nine years after The Mustache, the story carries and presents the same self-centered debates. Nicholas – a protected, shy middle-school student who still wets his bed, is enamored with his father, and has considerable paranoid tendencies – goes off to the ski school with all of his classmates.

The plague sets in at the get go: his father refuses to let Nicholas ride in the school bus due to safety concerns; once Nicholas arrives at the chalet the father forgets to unload his bag; and the kid becomes the laughing stock of his class because someone refusing to lend him pajamas makes the comment that “he’ll pee in them.”

Events lead Nicholas to form a bond with the class bully, Hodkann, and the charismatic instructor, Patrick. The latter accentuates Nicholas’s hopes and bright side. Hodkann only contributes to Nicholas’ insecurities and wish to prove himself, however. Nicholas’ life at the chalet gets darker as events unfold, and he succeeds in daydreaming certain sequences that even a most paranoid person would have a hard time imagining.

What is fascinating about Carrere’s two novels is that despite the unforgiving self pity and pain the protagonists and readers endure – not to mention obvious salvations presented in both stories, which both the protagonists and reader avoid – and the parallel frustrations put forth (and lived through), the characters are very real. And they represent a part of everyone’s dark, self-doubting, paranoid side.

Note: If you have read either novel, or do end up reading them, and want to get into discussions as to WTF it all means, please leave a comment or email me. I am looking, desperately, for answers.





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4 Responses to “Indelible Doubt – Class Trip & The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrere”

  1. Matthew Tiffany
    at 10:22 am on January 22, 2007

    I read The Moustache. I don't know how much light I can shed, but I'd join the discussion.

  2. Lucas Murtinho
    at 3:39 am on January 23, 2007

    I've read both – plus "L'Adversaire", a French "On cold blood" where Carrère tells the unbelievable true story of a man who for twenty years pretended to be a doctor and ended up killing his whole family when his secret was about to be discovered. I've been reading some contemporary French authors lately, and am pretty sure Carrère is the best of them.

    Anyway, I'd be happy to discuss his work. Not sure I know what it means either, but coming up with some theory about it should be fun.

  3. Anonymous
    at 5:26 am on January 23, 2007

    For anyone intrigued by the novella, you should definitely check out the film, LA MOUSTACHE, directed by none other than Emmanuelle Carrere. It's an excellent film and a treat to watch after reading the book. Carrere keeps things pretty faithful until the very end which is entirely different from the book. I won't give anything away, except to say its an interesting change that works quite well (and adds some interesting layers to the original story). LA MOUSTACHE just came out on DVD this month. Here's the official film website – http://www.cinemaguild.com/lamoustache.

  4. Emre Peker
    at 2:27 pm on January 27, 2007

    the book was actually loaned to me by a good friend who watched the movie and then picked up the novel. i am very interested in seeing the movie, especially considering the twist at the end, which i thought was coming all along in the novcel but did not materialize the way i envisioned it.

    as for shedding light,matthew, i'm not sure i can do that either. i think part of carrere's writing is to inspire a different take on the outcome for each reader. judging from discussions i had with friends, i can say he does accomplish the goal. the moustache did leave me asking, "so, what now?" and "why?" at the end, though. not that i had not asked myself the same quesitons all along…

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