It has been a while since I have read Joanne Harris – I loved Chocolat, and then devoured Coastliners. Her newest, is the third in a series, which are all ok to read alone. I haven't read Blueeyedboy or Gentlemen and Players.
Joanne Harris brings a strong psychological aspect to all her stories, and this one is no different. Set in St Oswald’s Grammar school, our unlikely sardonic hero, Latin master Roy Straitley, is close to retirement, when the school finds itself in difficulties. One of Straitley’s ex-pupils, Johnny Harrington is brought in to sweep clean, and revolutionize and energize the school. In his wake come email, powerpoint, and some interesting characters, who have no loyalty to the old school and its challenges. We wonder whether Straitley and all things old and traditional will survive the purge.
Through diary entries of a past pupil, we discover just how murky the waters under the proverbial bridge, back in 1988 are. The teachers and the pupils are hiding many secrets, as is the school. The contrast between the time span of only 20 or so years reveals how times have changed and so too have attitudes to gender issues, sexuality, corporal punishment, and the methods available to teachers to instil discipline in boys.
The tension mounts and nothing is as it seemed it was, or is. The revelations are chilling.
This is a dense novel, and thoroughly enjoyable. I think if I had read it on holiday I would have enjoyed it more. It was too complex to read late at night, and I found I either had to compromise on the detail, or go back and re-read large sections. In this busy day and age, that makes for a more challenging read. But that is my problem.
The writing style is superb – the voices of the characters completely distinct, eerily clever and sarcastic, and evoking memorable scenes and events that will stay with me for a long time.
A stunning 5 stars.
You may also enjoy Try not to Breathe by Holly Seddon.