Didier van Cauwelaert's Vingt ans et des poussières is the Goncourt-winner's first novel, and in a frequently crazy, action-filled book this is often funny, particularly from the point of view (I at least found) of character and situation. And although Cauwelaert was only in his early twenties at the time of publication, this still shows signs of narrative maturity.
After fifteen years without working in the theatre, 72-year-old Émile, retired in Nice and married, looking after a brother-in-law (turning towards senility) and helping the neighbours in his block of flats with all manner of jobs, including taking kids to school, finds (vaguely by mean of the nearby boulangerie) a new lease of life in the theatre: transforming a very dubious play by local lycéens into something really valuable – cue for getting to know Norbert and other teenagers, but particularly Sandra.
Of secondary note are two fascinating characters, Carême and Trastour. Carême is the school gardener who has a penchant for the female head teacher and is obsessively keen to improve his knowledge, one way in which he does so being to 'eavesdrop' on lessons while he's performing his duties, and another to read as much as he can: he's full of literary quotations. Trastour is a somewhat anarchistic teacher of provençal and niçois, although his refusal to translate, and (not unrelated) his apparent indifference to his students' negative reactions to his teaching mean that he is almost without students interested in his subject; his attempts to help the players, in part fired by his hatred of the school where he 'works', also result in the players' animosity towards him.
Didier van Cauwelaert: Un aller simple | One Way
Didier van Cauwelaert: Jules