Alone in the Classroom
Set in Canada and moving in time between more modern times and the era of the Great Depression, the novel centres around the unsolved murder of Ethel, a young girl found dead in the woods, but this is not a traditional whodunit crime novel by any means. The man arrested for the crime appears to be innocent, and there are suspicions about the local headmaster, the enigmatic figure of Parley Burns, who sports a Hitler‑style moustache and seems to enjoy humiliating the children. He makes clear his belief that Michael, the good-looking child of nature, is stupid. Idealistic, and perhaps unhealthily interested in her handsome student, Connie Flood is convinced that he can overcome his difficulties with what modern times would recognise as dyslexia.
The importance of nature is highlighted in the character of Michael, and this is a key element in the novel. For me, the changes in time, narrator and place made the novel disjointed and lacking cohesiveness. There are many lovely moments of beautiful writing—“the pallid blue-greyness under her thick brown hair like a broken piece of china”—but the elements did not coalesce into a whole. It is not a novel of action, more one of ideas and moments. External events intrude little, and it is more of a character‑driven novel. Not for me I’m afraid.