Sebastien Roch is a brilliantly drawn portrait of a boy's psychological, sexual and political coming of age in provincial France against the background of the Belle Epoque. We follow Sebastien as he enters a jesuit college as a natural, unspoiled innocent child and develops into a corrupt, disillusioned, tortured adolescent until his senseless death at the age of 21 on the battlefield. It is a powerful finale to Mirbeau's trilogy of "angry young man" novels. The harrowing story of the perversion of innocence is offset by Mirbeau's lyrical descriptions, capturing in words the serene impressionism of Monet and the violent pornographic excesses of Feliciens Rops.
The ?decadent Mirbeau (18481917) is best known for his florid exercises in sensuality, Torture Garden and The Diary of a Chamber-maid (this latter the source of two famous films). Here, an (1890) novel, the completion of a partially autobiographical trilogy, portrays the foreshortened manhood of the eponymous Sbastien, a hopeful French provincial youngster who endures brutally humble beginnings and the various hardships of a Jesuit college, then perishes on a WWI battlefield. S bastien is a kind of tabula rasa onto whom others' romantic and sexual longings are projected, without his full complicity with (or understanding of) the passions he innocently arouses. Mirbeau's superbly controlled period piece is, accordingly, both a keen portrayal of the idealism and solipsism of youth and a welcome reminder of the genius of a writer who has probably always been rather seriously underrated. (Kirkus Reviews)