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VINE VOICEon 15 February 2010
Hesperus Press is another publisher whose raison d'être is bringing back neglected works into print and their list sounds very interesting (Pushkin, Flaubert and Charles Lamb etc). Printed on quality off-white paper with super matt wraparound soft covers, this novella was a physical pleasure to read. The reading itself was a little more difficult.

This was ICB's breakthrough novel after one previous effort, and at a mere 98 pages is a swift read. Published in 1925 at the age of 41, Pastors and Masters is set in a minor prep school of which Nicholas Herrick is the nominal headmaster. However apart from taking prayers in the morning he leaves everything to Mr Merry (who, gasp! is not a qualified teacher), plus Mrs Merry, Mr Burgess (who, phew! is qualified), and Matron Miss Basden. Herrick, with his younger sister Emily, prefers more intellectual pursuits engaging his friends in debate, and bragging about the book he is writing - will it ever get finished and be published? This is the basis of the plot, on which I'll expound no further.

ICB's style though takes a bit of getting used to. There's little descriptive prose, it's mostly dialogue and that is really clipped. The characters never shut up! They're constantly talking, mostly at each other, in engagements of verbal sparring, scoring points off each other. This is a group stuck in an old Victorian way of doing things, full of fake gentility. It was impossible to find a single likeable character who actually had anything interesting to say or did anything of merit whatsoever, something I suspect was a deliberate satirical ploy of ICB.

`How good we all are at talking without ever saying anything we think!' said Bumpus.
`It is not always politic to say what we think,' said Miss Basden.
`It is not so easy,' said Masson.
`Some times I suppose it is right to say it, whether or not we like it, and whether or not it is liked, said Delia.
`Yes, yes the thing to be done,' said Miss Lydia, sighing.
`Oh, just possibly. Once or twice in a lifetime,' said Mr Bentley to his daughter.
`Nearer once than twice,' said Bumpus.

An interesting introduction to ICB's work, but just as I really got into it, it was over. Recommendations for a mature ICB to read some time in the future would be appreciated - hang on a minute, didn't the Queen borrow one from the mobile library in The Uncommon Reader? The foreword and biographical notes were also very useful as ICB appears to have had a colourful life.
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on 18 April 2008
The Author is justifiably famous for her rich and subtle dialogue. This book is a wonderful introduction to her style.Her lack of description leaves so much to the reader's imagination . She wields her pen like a knife and cuts through the respectable genteel suburban life portrayed . The dialogue sparkles between characters;so much is said but not everything is revealed. It is a case of "we heard what you said but we know what you really mean." I found that I could not put this down, and have sought out her other works. She has an unusual writing style that is intriguing and satisflying. A good read.
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on 11 February 2010
I was interested in reading a Compton-Burnett novel, as I recently read a biography about the novelist Elizabeth Taylor, and Compton-Burnett a good friend of hers, and was referred to in the book a great deal.
In the forward to the novel, Sue Townsend suggests that readers might find it a hard read at times, that Compton-Burnett's style takes some getting used to. The novel is written almost completely in dialogue. I didn't however find it a difficult read, the style is a little unusual prehaps, but the writing is so very good that it flows easily and makes for a quick and lively read. The characters are quirky and fully developed in spite of being written about in a style that one might think doesn't lend itself to the description of characters, and yet within the great swathes of dialogue there emerges strong and distinct characters. The novel centres around a school, and those who run it or work there and their intellectual friends. This is the first book by this author I have read, but it probably won't be the last.
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on 6 April 2012
"Pastors and Masters", first published in 1925, is set in a small private boys school. Nicholas Herrick and his sister are nominally in charge but they believe that to actually do any work would be demeaning; therefore they leave the place in the hands of Mr Merry - an unctuous uneducated man.

Although very short, "Pastors and Masters" is a demanding read, as the novel consists almost entirely of obtuse and elliptical dialogue. I found myself reading sentences again and again but still having little idea of their meaning or import. As recounted in Sue Townsend's forward, Compton-Burnett herself said "My books are hard not to put down." (the syntax here is typical) and this indeed was the case.

Despite its difficulty I did find "Pastors and Masters" rewarding and I do intend to read more of Compton-Burnett's work. There was something about her strange claustrophobic world peopled with shifty hypocritical characters which stayed with me, and I found myself thinking often of the novel when I was away from it.
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on 28 April 2011
Very slightly interesting is the best I can say about it. The "famouse" style is clever, subdued and irritating in the end.

*Everybody* seemed to speak in an "English understatement + double negatives" style.

I sort of enjoyed it, but never again!
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on 26 March 2013
The book was good but not vintage Compton-Burnett though it is a relatively easy introduction to her rather opaque style.
The cover design however is a sackable offence!
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