What a page-turner! I was up until three a.m. two nights running.
This is powerful writing, free of melodrama… The individuals…are entirely credible, psychologically real… I do want us to review this book. [Review published 1st March, spring issue.]
…a work of great power… I do not think that the evils of letting the boys know best in ordering their mini-society can ever have been so thoroughly or imaginatively treated, and here I include Lord of the Flies – which in comparison with School Story merely scrapes the surface. All would-be housemasters should be made to read it before agreeing to do the job, though perhaps all serving housemasters who (if they have an ounce of sensitivity will wince on every page) should be spared reading it on the grounds that they have already seen these horrors in one form or another. I fear, though, that some housemasters may remain blissfully unaware of the nastiness over which they are presiding…
Present housemaster at an historic public school
School Story is an epic; I congratulate you on writing such a huge and complex novel with such sureness and overall design in the story and the characters…it all rings true and the development is controlled in a masterly fashion. I do hope it will attract the attention which it deserves despite the difficulty of the subject matter which has not been dealt with salaciously but with honest verisimilitude. I note the story is set in the 1940s. I arrived at ****** in the early ‘fifties and there HAD been certainly one or two houses which could be likened to the one you describe in the recent past… The senior boys beat without compunction and then the beaten juniors took it in turn to beat others when they arrived at the top…and they all left thinking their housemaster a great man… The recent revelations by the disc jockey John Peel suggest that the (sexual) practices you describe were widespread at Shrewsbury… Some (old boys at a different named school) were fervent about the school and others said they hardly bear to enter the grounds without feeling physically sick, so I suppose that there had been some traditions like that differing widely from house to house… It is extraordinary that over this last half-century the public schools have become so much civilised at a time when society as a whole has been coarsened and made more violent by so many influences. I hope that most of the practices you describe have vanished from the houses of today and perhaps complacently would think so, but one never knows how the schoolboy underworld runs along in its own course regardless of what we adults do.
Former headmaster of three great public schools
I just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your School Story… Enjoy isn’t really the right word to capture the experience of reading this book, although once I got into the book, I couldn’t put it down –literally!
Having endured four years of ********* College in the late ’fifties (and several prep schools prior to that), it wasn’t difficult to relate to the setting and most of the events described in your book. (I gather, having read Churchill’s Early Life and Robert McNeill’s Wordstruck that the same things had been going on for decades – perhaps centuries – prior to what we endured.)
But your book didn’t just resonate with me. It revived so many things that I had forgotten (repressed?) about those years, in ways that both gave me great joy (the incredible feeling engendered by a day – or even afternoon – off; the friendships) and stirred up all the unpleasant memories (the beatings, the bullying, the sexual harassment), but especially the issues that should have been confronted…and it’s these that make this book such a great literary contribution.
I loved the way you crafted this book – how the outside world (even the rest of the school) was sealed off, how the house itself became the boys’ world, how you narrated it. And especially the Epilogue. Ouch!
When I returned for my twenty-first reunion (the only one I attended, I needed time and space between me and the experiences), I was badgered by older ********ians asking me why I hadn’t put my son Jonathan down for ********* – in the end, I said I had, it made for less unpleasant conversation. Thanks again for writing such a great book, I haven’t been so moved as a reader in years.
One long hurrah for your book. From the first chapter of School Story I was quite unable to be anywhere without it…until it was thoroughly finished… Most importantly, you have done a brilliant job with the developing character of Angus. To see him through from twelve to eighteen-plus with every subtle graduation and influence presented with such tact and understanding is amazing and utterly memorable. Haunting, I find it…I’ve been totally concerned for and with ‘A,C’ right through which is of course what you planned – and if he had not been there I could not have borne the sheer weight of fear, brutality and gloom of Ansell’s which you brilliantly convey… I shall never forget Angus; he’s just wonderful, and if I’d created him myself I’d be proud.
Seventy-year-old daughter of former Eton housemaster and published poet
Last weekend gave an unexpected chance to start reading School Story. Having done so I could hardly put it down. I found your story-telling technique utterly compelling and the character-drawing was economically effective, but most of all, though I did not go to public school as a boarder till the mid-fifties…I could identify fully with so many of the situations… I loved the book.