There seems to have been a big resurgence of interest in this book recently, coinciding with the release of the film (in the US now and the UK in January – I’m not sure of the release dates in other countries). I’ve seen a few other reviews this week, and I’m going to add one more.
This was a difficult review to write, because it’s almost impossible to discuss this book without spoiling it. When I started reading it I had no idea what it was about, so I think it probably made more of an impact on me than it would have if I’d known what to expect. I’m sure you could still enjoy it if you did know though, because there’s so much more to this book than the ‘mystery’ – and you may be able to work out what’s happening quite early in the book anyway, particularly if you read a lot of dystopian fiction.
The story is narrated by thirty-one year old Kathy, who is working as a carer, but I can’t tell you who she is caring for or why. In a series of memories and flashbacks, Kathy remembers her childhood at Hailsham School. Right from the beginning it’s obvious to the reader that Hailsham is not your average English boarding school – there’s something very unusual about both the school and its students…
Kathy’s narrative has an interesting structure. She’ll start to tell us something, then go off on a tangent and talk about something else for a few pages, then return to the original story she was telling – and she does this throughout the entire book, which means the plot moves forward very slowly. The whole truth about Hailsham and the fate of the students is revealed very gradually over the course of the novel. And yet, despite the slow pace, I never got bored or lost interest.
After finishing this book I know that I liked it, but I’m not sure how much. This is one of those times when I’m glad I stopped using star ratings on my blog! I found it difficult to care about the three main characters (especially Kathy’s ‘best friend’ Ruth, who I really disliked) or to feel emotionally involved in their story, apart from the final couple of chapters which were very moving. For me the attraction of this book is the range of fascinating questions and issues it raises. I would have liked the book to have explored some of these issues in more detail, but on the other hand I appreciate being left to think about them for myself. And I know I’m going to be thinking about them for a long time.