This novel, published in 1962, caused a great deal of controversy at the time. It exposed the internal workings of the British public school system: the snobbery, the fagging, the bullying, the incipient homosexuality, the beatings, and the conferment of power upon boys over other boys. The fact that most city men, academics, industrialists, politicians, churchmen, and members of every profession of the time went through some or other variant of the public school system leads one to think that the novel might have been one of the instruments that began the breakdown of some of these traditions. That these traditions continue to produce the nation's professional leaders, to a certain extent at least, has one quaking in one's boots for the future.
More than just a rocket up the arse of the establishment, however, this novel is comic as well as witty and the balance between the author's stripping away of the pretences surrounding public school practices and his sense of humour is finely preserved. It is a subtle book for all it is also revelatory, for one comes to feel some sympathy with the boys - some of those who perpetuate the system unthinkingly are not culpable, or not necessarily so. Perhaps the viciousness of the public school system and its reliance on tradition and privilege was merely a symptom of the inflated egos of an establishment that has since disappeared? I very much doubt that the snobbery has abated much, however, because above all of the faults here depicted, this seems to me to be both the most pernicious and prevailing.
The novel is beautifully written with a fine eye for comic circumstances and a delicate ear for what passes for wit and sarcasm among public schoolboys. Characters are very well established and even the comic ones are believable. There is some excellent writing, particularly the set-piece of the climax of the fourth of June celebrations.