Sunday, 20 April 2014

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

For a book about the horrible murder of one young girl, an attack on another, stalking, obsession, and numerous affairs and broken marriages, there's surprisingly little urgency. The whole thing felt very detached from events that I would expect to feel compelling, but from which the narrative kept its emotional distance. 

So, there it is. It's not a bad book, but never really connected with me. I didn't really care about any of the characters. I didn't hate them either. I just felt that whatever happened to the characters had little impact on them, really, and so they didn't really matter to me.

Where does this sense of detachment come from? The narrative? The lack of communication of emotional impact? I like it when authors underplay the emotion that you can feel boiling underneath the surface - but there has to be some hidden heat. This was cool as a late autumn morning. And not a stormy or windy or elegiac one, either. Just a day. 

Which is frustrating, because the prose style is very competent. But, I don't know. I wanted some of the things that were going on to really hit home to the characters, instead of being just one more experience they pass through on their way to...where?

The narrator is telling the story of her aunt Connie, her aunt's early teaching experiences, the troubled principal at her school, and the young man she gave extra tutoring to. Then it moves to later, when Connie is reporting on a horrible murder for which a young man is convicted and then, on appeal, released. The troubled principal turns up again. So does the young man. Then Connie travels to Europe on the eve of the war. Somewhere in there she gets married, almost absentmindedly, and then divorced, just as absentmindedly. 

Then she starts to teach again. And the narrator is investigating all these old stories, and breaks up her own marriage, again, absentmindedly. These things happen to the characters, flow through them, and don't seem to change them. And that's bloody frustrating.

It feels like there's a better book hidden inside this one, but it has been so severely tamped down that I can barely see the edges of it.

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