From the first page, I was hooked by this elegant book. I tend to read at night and found myself pulling forward bed time so I could get back to Roy Straitley and the sinister counterpoint of a second narrator.
Despite the spoiler on the front – see the image – I was constantly wrong-footed by Harris’s cleverly woven, twisted plot. Roy Straitley is a Latin Master in a Yorkshire Grammar school. During the thirty years he has spent in post, Roy has taught thousands of boys and appears to remember them all. He fondly recalls the youthful face of his bank manager and other dignitaries in the town of Malbry. But one boy has transcended expectations and sends a shudder down the spine of his ex-teacher by mere mention.
The novel takes two Point of Views (POV) – as you may have worked out from the intro to this review, well done you – one is clearly Roy Straitley and is set in the present, September to November 2005. We live the life of a man faced with monumental changes to the place he loved as a scholar and has made his sole focus for the last three decades. Roy is single and has only left the country on school trips.
The second POV is darker, initially it takes the form of a diary written at a distressing time for Roy and the school – the autumn term of 1981. Then the narrators dislocate (distempate?). Straitley briefly enters the 80s and our villain comes to the present. Our sense of danger heightens as we image potential endings, each dashed away from us in a new turn or reveal. This is truly a thriller of the highest order and I plan to read the rest of the series.
Most of all I like to imagine that Ms Harris spent time with lots of school masters. Admiring their tweed jackets, bat-like cloaks and generally aroma of Gauloises, chalk and beer. She doesn’t mention this form of research in the acknowledgements, but I hope she liked the drop scones.
Different Class – Joanne Harris, 2016
ISBN 978-0-552-77701-8 Penguin, Random House (Black Swan)