Recommended by actually a number of book blogs – A Reader’s Journal and the other Jenny Claire from my lovely home state both reviewed it well. I’ve been putting off reading this because I didn’t like Chocolat at all – I thought the film was better. A terrifying and rare thing for me to say, and I generally only say it about The Princess Bride and Cold Comfort Farm; my opinion swayed in the latter case by how adorable I think Kate Beckinsale is, and how all the jokes surprised me in the film but not in the book, which I read subsequently.
However, I eventually decided to check this out when I discovered it was all about someone secretly trying to bring down a British public school. It made me think of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I enjoyed very much, and besides British schoolchildren fascinate me with their dreadfulness. How can they be so dreadful? And I discovered I like this quite a lot more than Chocolat, all the nasty revenge things that went on, and Roy Straitley’s rude Latin asides (hurrah for Latin! the Latin teacher was the cleverest!).
I will now commence to spoil everything, so stop reading if you don’t wish to be spoiled.
You get alternating points of view of Roy Straitley, the old and venerable Latin teacher at St. Oswald’s, an old British public boys’ school that is snobby and unassailable, and one of the new teachers at St. Oswald’s, once unhappily a regular school kid looking in from the borders of St. Oswald’s, now back to seek reeeee-venge against everyone, everyone, everyone at St. Oswald’s. It’s all very cunning and insinuating. You think it’s Chris Keane all along, but in the end it turns out it’s a girl! Who pretended to be a boy when she was younger so she could sneak into St. Oswald’s and pretend to go there!
I don’t know how well this worked. I didn’t know she was a girl until the end. It sort of spoiled the book for me – when the new teachers first showed up, I thought, Well, obviously she’s suggesting it’s Keane, I’ll just skip to the end and discover whether it is really someone else, and I glanced at the end of one of the closing chapters, and someone said “KEANE?” in shocked tones right at the end of the chapter, and I assumed that that meant yes, Keane was the perpetrator of these wicked crimes. It made me feel very fond of Joanne Harris, as I thought she was putting all the fun into how and why things were being done, rather than by whom. Which is what I prefer anyway, when you know who did it, you can catch how and why straight along as you’re reading through. But I didn’t get to have the fun of doing that. I felt sad and let down when I got to the end and all was revealed. Pooh.
But I enjoyed all the wicked things she did to everyone. I did think the sex scandals were a little uninventive – it would have been more fun if she had managed to implicate maybe one or two people with the suggestion of pedophilia and then done something completely different for the others. And, as I say, I was pleased that the Latin teacher was cleverest of all. Up with Latin!
All in all, fun and engaging, and maybe sometime when I get over being cross with Joanne Harris for tricking me I will read it again and see how well I feel her twist-at-the-end I’m-really-a-girl device worked. At the moment I think it was a little cheaty, but since I didn’t know throughout the entire book, I can’t really say.