Different Class by Joanne Harris reviewed

Different Class Book Cover Different Class
Joanne Harris
Doubleday UK
April 15, 2016

The impressively versatile Joanne Harris in her psychological thriller mode, at her darkest and most unsettling. After thirty years at St Oswald's Grammar in North Yorkshire, Latin master Roy Straitley has seen all kinds of boys come and go. Each class has its clowns, its rebels, its underdogs, its 'Brodie' boys who, whilst of course he doesn't have avourites, hold a special place in an old teacher's heart. But every so often there's a boy who doesn't fit the mould. A troublemaker. A boy with hidden shadows inside. With insolvency and academic failure looming, a new broom has arrived at the venerable school, bringing Powerpoint, sharp suits and even sixth form girls to the dusty corridors. But while Straitley does his sardonic best to resist this march to the future, a shadow from his past is stirring. A boy who even twenty years on haunts his teacher's dreams. A boy capable of bad things.

I heard the author, Joanne Harris, talking about this book in a radio interview and thought that it sounded interesting. Intrigued by the prologue I was hooked within the first chapter really and Roy Straitley, who we meet in it and who is one of the best characters I’ve read in quite some time. In fact the prologue contains the other voice heard in this book – that of one of the boys who was at the Grammar school in the 1980s and was taught by Straitley. The chapters shift between the two voices and two eras though this is clear from the chapter headings. The present time is 2005 and the events surrounding the school then. The 1981 chapters hints at, covers, events that affected Roy & the Grammar school at the time and the questions is whether some aspects of those events are relevant now? The school is failing and there is a new headmaster, ex pupil with a something of a reputation with those who choose to remember.

I really enjoyed reading this book. While the whole book is very good the icing on the cake was Straitley. He is a Mr Chips character in many ways however set in the modern era. In fact he feels like someone from a slightly earlier era and a great example of someone really rooted in time and particularly place that was part of the charm and appeal of the character for me. Life away from or without the school is an anathema to Roy Straitley. This really is a deftly created character with very dark and very dry humour which I loved. The book has the highs and lows of life, love, perversion and loyalty; it offers humour, humanity and pragmatism. In some senses the story in this book is quite simple, with variations on the theme having been written about before. However it is the high quality of the writing that makes is so unputdownable for me. I really found myself completely caught up in this story and putting it down was a rarity. I’d not read the earlier books in this collection and this works fine on its own. However I’ll certainly look at reading earlier books when I can and other books from Joanne Harris – she deserves her reputation as a talented writer.

Note – I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review