Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Class: The Secret Diary of a Teacher in Turmoil (Jane Beaton)

--The blurb--
"It's about love lives...

Maggie has been dating Stan for years - safe, comfortable and about as exciting as soggy toast. Can their relationship survive? Especially when Maggie meets David McDonald, her opposite number at the boys boarding school over the hill. Every single girl in the school has a crush on him, but not Maggie ...yet.

It's about school lives...

Two girls. Same form. Simone Kardashian has won a scholarship and is determined to make her parents proud. Fliss Prosser is furious at being so far from home and her friends. As Simone tries desperately to fit in, Fliss tries desperately to get out.

It's about private lives...

Veronica Deveral knows how to manage a school. Routine and discipline are fundamental to her role. But Veronica has a secret that could ruin her career."

--The review--
Would, or do, Scots really say that things 'suck'? In this novel they do, and I'm not sure I really took to it. However, the characters present in the novel are generally its greatest strength - they are vividly painted, not homogeneous, and very human and realistic indeed. There is also, arguably, just the right number of characters for the novel to be suitably both intense and manageable. In a revealing and pertinent title, Jane Beaton addresses class struggle alongside the traditional schooltime tribulations in Class.

While the plot also has its charms, there are also some weaknesses - the end is too abrupt, for instance, and there is definitely a little plagiarism afoot too (methinks the author has been reading a little too much Malory Towers, right down to the headmistress' opening speech to the newbies and the setting of the West Country seaside mansion with its four towers). The Veronica Deveral thread was also a little weak - it wasn't consistently given enough attention throughout the story, so that by the time its denouement was revealed, you didn't actually care enough about the character or the problem. Something else that could have been built up more and had promise was the relationship between Maggie and Simone, subsidiary as it was intended to be. The mystery element, though, was at least relatively taut, keeping the reader guessing until its resolution, and the burgeoning relationship between Maggie and David was well played-out - it is perhaps worth reading the rest of the series (next instalment 2010) for this part of the storyline alone, even if one already suspects that they know how it will end.

Stylistically the novel was too self-consciously old-fashioned in places, which didn't play as well as the modern style that Beaton adopts from the beginning (with lots of name-dropping of brands, such as Topshop, which didn't annoy me as much as it usually does). The old-fashioned elements of style that started to creep in during the novel's second half weakened the notion of the novel as a tale of a modern girls' boarding school, and also highlighted the generally sloppy wrapping up of ideas at the end. There were also some shocking mistakes in my proof copy (e.g. 'pour over' instead of 'pore over' prep) which I hope were resolved in the final edition. The first part of the title - Class - is also an excellent choice given the general demographic of boarding schools and the situations of the characters, but is let down by the subtitle (The Secret Diary of a Teacher in Turmoil), which is not only unnecessary but also inaccurate (given that it is not written in a diary style, but in the third person, and switches frequently between the points of view of different characters).

I am in agreement with one of the Amazon reviewers that this constitutes a fun, nice, lightweight read. However, I do hope that in the next book of the series, we will see a little more of Jane Beaton's personality in the setting and events and a little less of Enid Blyton's.

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