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The Kingdom of Childhood Paperback – 4 May 2012
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Dark and fast-moving...a stark psychological drama. --Publishers Weekly
Wow, what a book! --Carol Fitzgerald, Book Reporter
Don't underestimate the power of this book to get under your skin...this exploration of illicit sex, so chillingly and precisely fleshed out, is a serious pageturner. --Jane Housham, The Guardian
We loved it and think you won t be able to stop talking about this controversial, unsettling and fascinating story. --Lovereading.co.uk
About the Author
Rebecca Coleman received her B.A. in English literature from the University of Maryland at College Park and speaks to writers' groups on the subjects of creative writing and publishing. A native New Yorker, she now lives and works near Washington, D.C. Visit her at www. RebeccaColeman.net.
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When I first read it, I was overly dismissive; I am afraid I missed some of the subtlety; it deserves thought. So I have modified my review
The topic has been done very well before, notably by J. M. Coetzee in his impressive Booker winning novel Disgrace Disgrace. The difference between this work of fiction and Coetzee's novel (set in South Africa) is that this is more ambiguous in its psychological insight.
The Kingdom of Childhood is set in the beautiful child-centred realm of the kindergarten of a Waldorf school )and based on the obviously good experiences the author had in one), as well as in the childhood of the central character. This real child-focused setting contrasts with the improper and unexpected behaviour of the teacher, Judy, now over 40. Sho grew up in a disturbed parental environment and found comfort, love and friendship in the company of the brother of one of her friends. A clue is given about a dramatic event from this period that we can imagine is a narrative thrust in the character's biography.
Now her marriage is breaking down (notably because an absence of sex, as her Ph.D. studying husband becomes otherwise occupied in his work); and from this nexus of circumstances she has a short scandalous affair with a cocky young teenager that then turns sour.
At the end of the novel, Judy seems to take responsibility for an action she did not do (or did she? familiy dynamics are mysterious affairs and causation is murky), while perhaps not taking responsibility for ones she did (or perhaps she was not really responsible given the circumstances)? What is responsibility in family and community? Where does it come from? (Bateson and others look to interacting circular dynamics of the group for its outcomes...)
The writing is fine, the language rich and sonorous but accessible, the characters come alive. The circular contextual dynamics of family (as worked with in family therapy) are in play. 4+ stars and I try to keep 5* for only the very finest works
I've read a few of these `forbidden love' novels and in each one the young school girl/boy is not as innocent as you would expect of a child. They are most often portrayed as the promiscuous one and actively seeking love and sex from the teacher/adult (I am saying what is a common feature in a fictional book, not necessarily real life). I really enjoy this style of book and if you want to read another in a similar vein but with a role reversal (young schoolgirl with male teacher) then You Deserve Nothing is also an excellent read.
I thought this was a very well thought out plot, cleverly and smoothly put together weaving between current day life at the American Rudolf Steiner school and Judy's disturbed childhood in Germany and can highly recommend it if you like the `Lolita' style of story.
Be warned, this is not a romantic view of an affair and, in opposition to the by-line on the front cover, I never thought this was `a love story'. Instead, Coleman takes what starts off as an even-handed approach to her characters, making Judy, the teacher, at least initially, a sympathetic character, falling for the wayward charms of Zach. Only as the book progresses do we see a far darker side to Judy, presented not just through her relationship with the boy, but in her responses to her husband, her son, and her boss.
Coleman, I think, has done a fine job with Zach, catching the overconfidence of the sixteen year old boy, thinking he is adult, exulting in his sexual power, yet revealing, simultaneously, all his young confusion and vulnerability.
The book does slip up, I think, with an overly melodramatic ending but overall this is a confident, compelling and provocative read. If you prefer your fiction to be sunny, feel-good and upbeat then this is definitely one to avoid - it is unflinching and bold in its portrayal of a damaging, taboo and very toxic affair.
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