on 2 February 2012
'Thrift' is a comedy about the British state education system, in which everybody - staff, management, the inventively irreverent student body - is embroiled in a ballad of mutual incomprehension, and rampant self-delusion. A cross between Kingsley Amis' 'Lucky' Jim Dixon and The Beano's Roger the Dodger, Phil Church's narrator is an English teacher charged with guiding his reluctant pupils in their 'learning journey', while attempting to sidestep what he'd surely shudder to hear called his own personal growth. 'Thrift', though, is not a novel about redemption. Its comic motor is failure: failure to teach, failure to learn, failure to tell the truth, failure to say no to either the anesthetic of pedagogical jargon, or to the comforts of the biscuit tin or a foaming pint of nut brown ale.
Church has written a very enjoyable first novel, funny and highly readable but with a darkness that lingers. I look forward to reading his sophomore effort!
on 30 May 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As a school child, I would have been delighted to have a teacher like this. As the parent of a school child, I would have been appalled to have my child taught by a teacher like this! He spends most of his day doing as little work as humanly possible, taking the path of least resistance with his students, and thinking about what he would like to eat next and how soon can he go home in order to fit in a nap before going to the pub.
This is an intelligently written book, and Mr Church's ear for dialogue is impeccable. I had no difficulties in believing in his characters. His humour ranges from so subtle that you could miss it to the snort your tea all over your Kindle variety.
Loved it. I hope there are many more books to come from this guy.
on 8 October 2012
...especially if the teachers are as terrible as this!
Thrift is a great little comedy focused on a teacher who is even more of a slacker than his teenage students - but not as much of a slacker as his flatmate. The two of them make an unexpectedly appealing duo as they come up with insane schemes to get rich quick, while struggling with the various eccentrics who populate the school, pub and everywhere else they go.
For me, it was the teaching scenes and the ingenious ways that the main character deals with the stresses of school life that brought the most smiles. I found myself reading this very quickly. Enjoyable, fun and with some high quality comic writing.
on 5 October 2012
I really enjoyed this book. Phil Church paints a tragically comic picture of a school where little goes right and where mutual misunderstanding is the order of the day.
This novel is true black comedy. The protagonist is an infuriating yet likeable character who seems bent on self-destruction. However, he has a panicky sense of self-preservation and his frantic attempts to get himself out of the holes he digs for himself are amusing and well-described.
Other characters are also memorable, whether major, like the narrator's flat-mate Malcolm or minor like Angela or the pub landlady. The one criticism I have of the book is that there are too many characters for me to remember properly. This is especially the case with the numerous teachers (who are strangely never referred to by their first names) and the children.
That aside, I warmly recommend this book. The characters are great, the pace fast and smooth and the dialogue superb. He captures the meaningful meaningless of teenage talk with skill and wit.
It's a comedy but there is a poignant edge to it which keeps it a pace away from whimsy.
Church's maladroit hero could well be found happily boozing, and holding his own, in a seedy bar with characters such as Amis' Lucky Jim and Heller's Major Major.
on 30 May 2012
A cracking read, for me spoilt a bit by what seemed to me unnecessary cruelty: walking out in a restaurant, telling a young boy he would never get a girl-friend. However, this was advertised as a light-hearted read which, on the whole, it was. I especially liked the teen-speak, including the girl pupil who mistakenly became belligerent: "Sir, you called my dad a pillar (of the community)".
on 5 October 2012
Comparison to Lucky Jim, Billy Liar, Frank Spencer, Men Behaving Badly, and so on by reviewers show that Phil Church has managed to achieve an eclectic comedy audience (certainly varied in age). It is not surprising that many readers make TV comparisons or suggest filmic possibilities since this is somewhat episodic rather than plot-driven narrative. For me it wasn't laugh-out-loud stuff but the amusement was maintained most of the way through. As many readers point out, this is a good first book.
The observation, characters and dialogue clearly show the author's teaching background although it is to be hoped that the main character's instructional technique is not true to life.
There are weaknesses that sometimes take the tale a shade too far towards the surreal but with a comic book that's not disastrous and probably emulates life as well. This is also a book for the biscuit fan - many favourites get a mention.
on 14 September 2011
Phil Church's debut novel `Thrift' is a superbly original comedy centring on the misadventures of a failing and exhausted English teacher at an upper school running in equal measures on incompetence, and expert posturing.
His love life is nonexistent, ingeniously self-sabotaged from post to wire, and his friendship circle consists of one: his sometime employed best friend with whom he shares a tumbledown cottage in a socially comatose village, where the only source of entertainment is going down the local and baiting the eccentric regulars.
Stricken by personal shortcomings, and surrounded by ineptitude, Church's main character is the ultimate lovable loser; irresistibly lacklustre and prone to such constant misadventure, that the book careens him from social knife-edge to professional precipice in a series of brilliantly crafted flukes and failures that eventually take him over the edge, and all the way back to square one none the wiser and twice as tired.
As well as being an earnestly fun read, the book has one very strong selling point: most people have been to school. It's a shared experience that makes everything in Church's novel feel like home. The plot keeps enough going on to be a great page turner, and there are no implausible twists or ridiculous gimmicks; the narrative runs smoothly and with great comedic pace, deliberate, but immensely fun.
Church writes with sober insight into his characters for the majority of the novel, however we are offered rare and lovingly observed moments of depth along the way. Descriptive detail is spare and effective, breezily framing the narrative with homely turns of phrase; seasonal, astute and frequently nostalgic, he has scene setting down pat from registration to home time.
Thrift is a fresh and satisfying comedy anxiously shadowed by leering catastrophe, and while never being unnecessarily cruel, Church weaves a modern day parable where nobody learns their lesson, and nobody does their homework.
on 2 September 2012
I don't normally go for comedy books but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It is the story of a hopeless teacher in a seemingly hopeless school and it is very funny.
The author creates a fun and engaging cast, including a biscuit-loving deputy head, a teacher who cries at any opportunity and Malcolm, the narrator's lazy housemate. The narrator himself is a teacher with no control whatsoever of his classes and part of the fun of the book is watching him blag his way through school life and appear to be a model teacher. Useless he may be, but we cannot help but root for him. This is a testament to the author that he has created such a likeable character.
It may not be a fully realistic portrayal of school life (or then again it may well be in some schools!) but I was quite happy to suspend my disbelief and go along with the plot. A giggle is never far away and the author is clearly comfortable writing comically. Recommended.
on 19 April 2012
Thrift is a light, frothy, fun read that made me laugh out loud. It gives a humorous insight into the shenanigans of reluctant students and inadequate teachers and governors, in a failing school. The characters are interestingly and convincingly drawn and despite their mutual self delusions and abilities to lie and manipulate whenever the situation requires them to do so, one ends up feeling some sympathy for them.
There were some editing errors and the conversion to an e-book was not as good as it might have been (chapter breaks were poorly laid out etc.) but overall this didn't spoil my enjoyment of a funny, witty first novel, full of pathos. I would definitely read another book by this author.
on 13 November 2013
A charming, light-hearted and in places, scarily true to life picture of life as a teacher in a modern school. Phil Church encapsulates the tone so many of us feel in those situations only teachers know. The morning coffee, the staff meetings, "The Call" from Ofsted. Even the feeling of distain whilst accepting work from senior staff, all the time putting on the "No problem!" smile.
Refreshing, witty, and perfect for anyone who has ever felt like the little fish in the big pond. If you have ever had the feeling of banging your head against a wall when talking to a student, read this book. You will quickly realise that it's not just you! Incredibly satisfying. Four stars.