Top critical review
A series of incidents, situations and character outlines form a teacher’s recollection of his teaching experiences.
11 January 2016
This collection of three books uses some cross-fertilisation of character and setting but each would stand alone quite comfortably and, arguably, more successfully.
The first book reads more like a memoire than a novel. A series of incidents, situations and character outlines form a teacher’s purportedly imaginary recollection of his teaching experiences. Some of the events were clearly amusing that the time, but their narration came across as rather laboured and more than once I found myself with the thought ‘perhaps you had to have been there.’ There was little cohesion or development, for me, however the events of the finale did shock me and I began to view the central character with more interest.
So much so that I hoped that the second book would follow this character into his teaching at a college of FE; suddenly he was more solid and human to me than he had been throughout the first book. How would a new teaching environment, more mature students and the new-found recognition of his own short-comings influence him? However, the second book took another teacher as its main protagonist; the setting, the issues and the character types remained the same. It worked better as a novel, though, with a central storyline - the rescue and improvement of the school’s nature area. What a shame that the writer chose such unlikely and overtly ‘comedic’ names for some of his characters - it did prevent me from taking them at all seriously, which was a shame, as their trials and tribulations were, at times, quite affecting.
The third book is labelled as a ‘thriller’ but I am afraid that it didn’t thrill me. More comedic names, two dimensional characters and some lengthy, non-contributory treatises about aspects of ecology suffocated the admittedly shocking elements of violence and the human interest features of the story.
The author writes with authority and in too much detail on subjects which are obviously of great interest to him; the environment, teaching practice, ornithology, but which don’t contribute much to the stories and became wearisome. His rendering of the south Manchester accent was a patois which even I only just penetrated and I was born and raised in the area and attended a school just like Birch Green in a town actually named in the book as a satellite of the imaginary Boynton. This heavily accented and phonetically rendered brogue was used by all the children and the ‘baddies’ which, unfortunately, linked them together and made them all into stereotypes. The teaching staff and police all spoke with normal accents - more stereotyping.
On the plus side - the violence of some of the scenes notwithstanding - the writer uses euphemisms for swearwords throughout, so these books can confidently be read by a young adult audience who might recognise and empathise with the school’s pupils and perhaps see that the teachers are human beings, too.