The theme of this book is the corruption of innocence. The setting is a public school in Devon during the Second World War. The book follows a group of seven boys from the day they arrive at the school to their final year.
It is told from the viewpoint of Christopher Angus, the most sensitive and thoughtful of the group. The first section describes in detail how he overcame his fear of being beaten. The second section charts the sexual development of the boys and how minors were initiated into various acts with their seniors. This part contains a mini biology lesson, given by one of the less conventional masters, on what masturbation really entails. In the third section the bullied become the bullies resulting in the manslaughter of a younger boy – an act which is covered up and regarded as an accident. Most of the group could live with this, but it haunts Angus for the rest of his life.
Then in the final three pages we see the point of the whole book. Here we are given a brief summary of the future careers of the group. They all go on to become important men in education, commerce, law and medicine. And this is the point the author is trying to make –– that this is the background of many of the leaders of the country in the last part of the twentieth century.
The question must be asked. Do we really need books like this saga of sex and sadism? Sadly I think that we do. We need to be informed so that we can protect the vulnerable. Especially as such things are still happening, although not in the schools, thank goodness. But consider the various leaks in the press about initiation rites in the Army.