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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 24 February 2012
Trendy, West Country public school Knotshead is a place where the rich and the famous send their children to be educated. Struggling under the management of an ineffectual headmaster the establishment lurches between crises and scandals.

When Alice (swotty sister-in-law of the headmaster)and Winthrop (much expelled son of an American billionaire) form an unlikely alliance against the school bully (rock star's son Johnny Tore), the ultimate result is tragedy. But along the way there's plenty of dark humour and a rich cast of characters. Perhaps a few too many characters where the staff are concerned as it was sometimes hard to keep track.

At its heart this book is a scathing satire on progressive education - guaranteed to have Guardian readers spluttering indignantly into their fair trade coffee. Nonetheless it has a high entertainment value and keeps you turning the pages, vividly capturing the conflicting forces and random cruelties of school life.

The Kindle edition has a few too many errors for my liking which is disappointing in a book from a relatively big name author.
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on 24 August 2017
As new.
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on 29 August 2017
As an ex bedalian I enjoyed the detail of school certainly rang true
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on 20 February 2003
It's a shame this is currently out of print because all Craig's novels interlinked, and this is the novel where the Viner family first appear. Set in a progressive co-educational boarding school it's a satire on liberal/ romantic values, as experienced by three pupils. One is the bookish Scottish step-daughter of the Headmaster, Alice. She is persecuted by Grub Viner, an aspiring pianist, and side-kick to the school bully Jono Tore. Arriving to challenge Tore is Winthrop T Sheen, a disgraced American Preppy who succeeds where Tore has failed in seducing Alice. The three of them eventually bring about the collapse of the school. There are echoes of real-life scandals here( such as the closure of Dartington)but what really grips are the descriptions of the power-struggles between pupils, to which the well-meaning staff are blind. A bitingly funny and gripping novel.
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A sometimes hilarious, sometimes very moving account of life in a progressive school. Intellectual Alice, the orphaned sister-in-law of the headmaster, is bullied by her often filthy-rich, rebellious classmates. When 'spoilt-brat' American millionaire's son Winthrop T. Sheen arrives at the school, he to his surprise also gets bullied, and forms an unexpected alliance with Alice. Meanwhile Denis 'Grub' Viner, a gifted pianist and the 'joker' of his year, also finds himself gradually attracted to Alice, at the same time being led by his friend Johnny Tore into bullying both her and Winthrop. Loosely based on the myths of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur and of Ariadne and Dionysus, this is compulsive reading. I particularly liked the way that Craig depicted how friendships and romances form in an enclosed environment like a boarding school, and her portrayals of needy, brilliant, Classics-loving Alice and of Grub, with his passion for music and his gradual understanding that being popular isn't as important as he's always believed. And Winthrop, the over-confident American, was a brilliant creation - both obnoxious and at times oddly sympathetic. I also liked Craig's final explanation of why Johnny Tore was such a bully. The descriptions of day-to-day life in a progressive school had me laughing out loud. And there are plenty of coups-de-theatre in the last section of the book!

I hope Craig brings back Grub and Alice in one of her future novels (they are mentioned in several of her other books, but don't feature much) - I want to find out more about what happened to them after they left the school!
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VINE VOICEon 11 August 2009
This is an extraordinarily well-written, gripping novel, meticulously observed, mordantly witty, savagely angry and yet compassionate, all at one and the same time! It is a briliant dissection of school life and its big and little cruelties as well as its small pleasures. But it's also a compelling drama of love, hatred, the getting of wisdom and the closing-off of some minds. Amanda Craig is in my opinion one of the most brilliant novelists writing in Britain today, and all her books should be in print!
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on 21 March 2012
Craig's clever and disturbing second novel, out of print too long, is a welcome reissue on Kindle, offering as it does a glimpse into the rituals and rivalries of a closed world - that of Knotshead, a 'progressive' public school. Even those without first-hand experience of such an institution may recognize, in this account of the splendours and miseries of adolescence, aspects of their own growing-up... For here, sharply delineated, are some all-too familiar types: the likable but easily influenced Grub, who colludes in the bullying of others - notably the intellectually precocious Alice - because it is a safer option than being one of the bullied. Presiding over this reign of terror is the dangerously unstable Jono, neglected son of a famous rock-star, who takes out his resentment on those least able to defend themselves. The casual racism, anti-semitism and misogyny which characterizes these persecutions of fellow pupils deemed to be 'Rejects' is authentically chilling; although there are flashes of humour, when those being picked upon find themselves in a position to exact revenge. For Alice, increasingly isolated by her perceived 'swottishness', the chance to get her own back comes, not through intellectual effort, but because she is singled out for the amorous attentions of another 'Reject', the rich and good-looking American, Winthrop. What follows is a funny and occasionally very dark coming-of-age story, which is also an indictment, one cannot help but feel, of a certain type of laissez-faire liberal education.
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on 8 August 2011
Craig's second novel has become a cult classic (and as rare as hen's teeth on the second-hand market). Despite its abysmal cover, and being twenty years old it's still worth reading.

The plot focuses on three main characters attending the sixth form of a progressive publioc school in Devon, clearly modelled on the Dartington/Bedales variety: Grub Viner, a gifted young pianist, Alice Hart, a clever, unpopular Classicist and Winthrop T Sheen, a much-expelled American rich boy. The action of the story is seen through their eyes, but a host of others, ranging from a kind of Greek chorus of teachers to other puils including the bullying Johnny Tore, son of a rock star, also play their parts.

Winthrop (a character whose elder brothers and mother appear in the later romantic comedy Love in Idleness)is used to being top dog at any US prep school he attends. Bewildered by the contrasting snobberies of a British public school, he flounders, and allies himself with the despised Alice, who is the preferred victim of Tore. The power struggle that emerges from this is credibly depicted, given that sexual conquest plays a big part in the school's pecking order. There are echoes of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in the whole story, which also involves a labyrinthine set of tunnels in which one of the pupils is eventually killed. The writing is sharply observant, with some good dialougue, although some of Winthrop's Preppy slang is very dated.

However, for readers old enough to recall the events that led to the closure of Dartington Hall, this is also a most enjoyable satire on the follies and ideals of progressive education. Many of its tenets, such as co-education and chiuld-centred learning have now become less shocking and more mainstream, but it's worth being reminded about how badly these can go wrong. There are plenty of novels about single-sex public schools, but hardly any about this kind of school. Craig has become a significant state-of-the-nation novelist, and there are foreshadowings of what is to come which admirers would enjoy. It should be brought back into print.
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on 21 May 2013
Knotshead is a truly ghastly progressive private school, somewhat different from my secondary mod. in a northern industrial town, and I found it fascinating, upsetting and disturbing on several levels. Nothing was quite as it seemed (it never is, in Amanda Craig's novels), but I had hopes that two favourite characters would go on after the book to forge some kind of happiness from what had been quite an education.
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on 17 April 2012
Like all the best coming-of-age novels A Private Place asks some profound questions about society as a whole. What are rules for? Do they stifle freedom more than they protect the weak? What is the effect, the meaning, of style? Amanda Craig writes about these complexities with tremendous wit, intelligence and warmth, and at the same time tells a love-story so gripping I had to read it almost at a sitting; and it goes on surprising you right up to the end. A really good satisfying read.
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