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By Judy Corstjens on 14-02-15
What's a great character like you...
...doing in a plot like this?
I ordered this book because I have read Susie Boyt's pieces in the FT and liked her intelligent, whimsical style. The start of this novel lived up to expectations with the introduction of Harriet Mansfield, a blue-stockinged, competent, Bridget Jones who is just terminating 7 years of psychotherapy and relaunching herself as headmistress of a nursery school for girls. Miss Jean Brody meets Fisher Price. Nursery school for girls? Aren't they all co-ed now? We are starting to lose grip of reality and it bodes ill. Hints of child abuse (suppressed by Harriet's memory) appear. There are amusing scenes - one lonely Sunday afternoon, Harriet decides to make beautiful baskets of marzipan fruit for her charges, it takes much longer than she thinks, and she only gets the final one done 15 mins before school starts on Monday morning. I can relate to that sort of competent, well-intentioned stupidity. But, basically it is down hill from here. There is a mixture of poshness (all the characters are rich and posh) and sadism and cruelty that in my experience do not often go together - yummy mothers are not the sadistic harridans we are cracked up to be. Making a whole novel turn (repeatedly) on this theme, and coming to two climaxes - firstly the threatened suicide of a four year old (by jumping off the school roof) and then the attempted suicide of the head mistress by overdose, is just pathetic. Sorry to give the ending away, but I really don't think I've deprived you of much.
The book is well written and Thomas's narration is good - though her depiction of 'lower class' voices made me wince a bit - so this wasn't a total waste of time. Still, my overall feeling is that this book was written to be fashionable - Harriet was physically abused by her posh mother; her brother was sexually abused by his banker father - not to express the deep experiences and feelings of a serious author. Thus, not what I am looking for in a novel.
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