Emotionally disturbed children and Greek tragedies. Does this seem like a good mix? That is just one of the disturbing aspects of this novel that helps to make this a book that is difficult to believe. A young inexperienced woman, who has just been through her own great tragedy and is still mourning, is asked to teach emotionally disturbed teenagers. Now, put all of this together, and you may wonder how did this all occur and why.
We find Alex, the young woman with the recent tragedy, facing her first day of class with these disturbed children. She is not a teacher,but was an actress. She is unprepared for the 5 angry, disturbed teens who enter her basement classroom. Alex realizes she is wrong for this class,but her old school mentor needs her. She decides to teach drama to these children and starts with a Greek tragedy. As things progress and as things get out if control, she finds her mourning for her lost lover, has transcended, and she has made the most prolific mistake of her life. Never mind these poor young teens.
The writing does tend to draw you in, but it also is redundant and tiring. I found myself skipping pages. Details of how a room looks and observations of those around Alex did not liven the reading enjoyment. What we know is that tragedies abound, we don't know exactly what has occurred until later. We read the pages of a diary and Alex's interpretations of events. Very deep and dark,but not thrilling.
Not a Recommended For Me. prisrob 09-07-14
The Amber Fury* begins with a young woman, Alex, starting a new job in Edinburgh as she grieves for her fiance,recently killed near their London home. Unable to cope with returning to her professional life as a promising theatre director, she takes a job teaching drama in a unit for teenagers excluded from the school system.
When her most difficult group scorns 'dramatherapy' and 'talking about feelings' she decides they will study a Greek tragedy instead, only to find that there are uneasy parallels between the grand themes of the likes of Sophocles and the lives of the sullen, wary and frequently manipulative students - and with her own life too.
If you come to The Amber Fury looking for something like The Secret History, you've picked up the wrong book - if anything, it reminded me much more of Notes On A Scandal. The story is told partly in flashback by Alex, with sections from a pupil's diary giving an alternative perspective, and Natalie Haynes does a remarkably good job of evoking the sinister nature of obsession and the rawness of bereavement. In particular, she is particularly good at capturing the uneasy psychological no-man's-land between an ordinary interest and a darker, more disturbing obsession - that wavering boundary that divides the realms of normality and a more disordered, dangerous way of thinking.
I do suspect that some readers might tire of the passages in which Alex and her class discuss Greek drama: although they certainly add something essential to the novel, I'm not sure they needed to be quite so in depth. But there's a grim inevitability about the way events unfold, which somehow makes it impossible not to keep turning the pages. The Amber Fury is is never contrived - although certainly the people and motives of the book are full of complexities - but also a sharply observant and unusually thoughtful take on the psychological thriller, as it begins to tip over into revenge tragedy.
Alex needs a new start. She moves from London to Edinburgh, because she's heartbroken. Her fiancé died in a terrible way and she has to learn how to live with the grief. Her friend Robert has offered her a teaching job. As a former director of plays she hasn't got much teaching experience, but as she could use a distraction she's giving it a try. The Pupil Referral Unit, or the Unit, is a school for troubled children. Working with difficult teenagers could be a challenge, but there's one class in particular that's exceptionally hard to teach. Alex tries to get them to read plays. She discusses Greek tragedies with the children. She has a bit of success with them which is great at first. The question is if it stays like that or if the children will now create problems in a different kind of way? The children definitely bring more trouble than she's bargained for.
The reader knows something has happened with Alex and her pupils and I wanted to find out what as soon as I could. The Amber Fury fascinated me from beginning to end. Alex is a sad woman, but there's also some hope. She has a strong personality and she's so smart and kind. I wanted to find out what happened to her in London as well. This is a book filled with mysteries and I couldn't wait to see them unravelled. The best part of the story for me was the dialogue Alex had with her pupils about the Greek tragedies. Seeing problems from many different angles made it really interesting and it looked so realistic. It was almost like I was back at school again, Alex got me thinking and I tried to form my own opinions about the questions she raised. The Amber Fury is magnificent, it's such a great book! I enjoyed it very much and am happy that I had the chance to read it.
Alex Morris moves to Edinburgh to take up a job at Rankeillor, a unit for children who are unable to be taught at a conventional school because of behavioural issues. Although she takes on several classes, the one the story focuses on is that of Mel, Carly, Ricky, Jono and Anneka. Alex teaches them Greek tragedies and eventually manages to win their trust. But Alex has her own issues to deal with following the tragic loss of her fiance from her life.
This is a psychological thriller in that the main crux of the story is how the Greek tragedies Alex teaches to her students have an effect on them, one in particular, leading to another set of tragic circumstances. We know that Alex is involved in some kind of court case, and not one linked to her fiancé but that story unfolds alongside that of her life in Edinburgh.
I found this to be a compelling story. The interweaving of the Greek tragedies, which were new to me, worked really well and how what the children learned from them linked with their actions was cleverly done. Alex, as overall narrator of the story, was very well written too and her feelings were explored effectively.
I think this is an excellent debut novel and I hope that Natalie Haynes continues to write such accomplished work.
The Edinburgh described in the book is dark and forbidding, exposing a side that those who know the city can relate to. Old town buildings, Victorian closes and the ever present Arthur’s Seat are written of with knowledge. Glimpses of a more vibrant Edinburgh during the yearly Festival lighten the city, allowing the reader to know that there is more than one side to this glorious city, full of history, pomp and ceremony.
It is a book where the author weaves tales within tales, slowly exposing her characters and building up the readers’ expectation and understanding of what the main plots are. Greek mythology mingles side by side with a modern tale of anguish and despair. A search for answers to questions that cannot be answered only implied as the reader gets further and further into the pages of the book.
Complex characters whose personalities slowly emerge: Alex who is in mourning for her fiancée; Mel a troubled teenager whose deafness is superbly described in a manner that gives the reader an insight into the world of those without perfect hearing; Carly her friend and sometimes confidant; the troubled Annika who rebels against her family and life away from her native Stockholm; Juno and Ricky, products of their environment.
Other characters lend to the complexity of the book, urging the reader to delve further in if only to discover where they lie in the ever emerging twists and turns of the storyline.
The book is set in a Pupil Referral Unit, an educational establishment for troubled youngsters who, for one reason or another, are unable to attend mainstream schools due to their anti-social behaviour. The reader can only have some sympathy for some of these youths whose complicated lives have left them vulnerable and exposed, wanting to be liked and accepted for who they are.
As the story evolves more and more questions surface. Only by reading through to the end can those questions be answered. An interesting read.
A Fury is an avenging goddess who acts to punish a terrible crime. Alex Morris is a young woman who has suffered an awful personal tragedy in London and who now works in a Pupil Referral Unit in Edinburgh. She has a class of troubled young teenagers who become increasingly involved and affected by their study of Greek Tragedy – and Alex herself. When what happened to her is revealed, an act of avenging violence becomes inevitable.
There is a clever idea here and a well-written story. I enjoyed the class discussion of Greek Tragedies, which was informed and intelligent. The plot was involving and just about believable. I did feel that the sense of tragic inevitability which is so prevalent meant that the outcome was never really in doubt, which dispelled much of the tension which the author attempted to build up in the early stages – but I enjoyed this novel all the same.
on 6 April 2014
I bought the book because the reviews talked about 'beautiful' prose, and the cover intrigued me. Unfortunately, this is a good example of not judging a book by the latter. Or indeed the former, beauty being so often so much in the eye of the beholder.
This is clearly a mainstream novel, not a thriller, or even a 'literary' novel. Perhaps it's a bad attempt at a thriller, but I don't see much in its structure that would justify the genre tag. If you think of it as a mainstream novel it's OK. Nice simple prose, interesting plot. Bit of action at the end. The characters never feel wholly rounded and alive to me - particularly the first person protagonist, who should dominate the novel and leap off the page - and this is a bit disappointing. The book becomes a more compelling read in the second half, but is pretty dull at the beginning (unless one's interested in remedial education, perhaps).
I didn't enjoy reading it. I didn't particularly empathise with the slightly naïve and self-righteous lead character. I sort of believed the setting, and enjoyed reading about the troubled young people, but this wasn't really developed enough either. I found the teenager's diary OK, but not entirely convincing in either style or content. The prose is polished and inoffensive, but doesn't seek out any heights and certainly isn't a reason to read the book in itself.
The author appears to be motivated by an evangelising desire to promote Greek tragedy, and I think this falls somewhat flat - a procession of potted synopses of various classics doing little to convince the reader of their merit. Indeed, the novel only just gets away with it, but does at least avoid the patronising tone adopted in her impenetrable essay on the subject included in the price. (But thank ee kindly for imparting such wisdom, Miss.)
Indeed, the worst thing about the book is probably the marketing. I expected a literary thriller, I got something that is (in my opinion) quite different. Not literary enough, not thrilling enough. This will not help the book find its market, and ultimately does the writer a disservice.
on 27 November 2015
Don't look for plot here. It limps along lamely for most of the book. As a Scottish Classics teacher, the characterisation of the Edinburgh working class rebel kids is a hoot. For starters they all have names you hardly hear amongst the working class. At one point one of the working class kids asks her teacher not to be "cross with her" - heard that from Scottish working class kids? Natalie seems to think that so long as she sprinkles the odd profanity in, it all sounds authentic. The usual misplaced "dangerous minds" claptrap. I wish disadvantaged kids could appreciate the finer points of Greek tragedy like this!
The Amber Fury is a first novel and, I'm afraid, it shows.
Set in contemporary Edinburgh, we find Alex Morris starting off a new role providing drama therapy within an educational unit for
kids who have been thrown out of mainstream schools. We soon learn that the role was made available by her former university tutor as a favour to allow Alex to escape from London and her grief following the death of her fiancé Luke. But how far has she exchanged one uncomfortable situation for another?
The real trouble with the novel is that the plot, pacing and structure seem to operate in competition with one another. Attempts to drip feed information to create dramatic suspense lead to the earlier narrative feeling wrong. For example, why would Alex be focusing all her thought and all her narrative on one class when, as an educator, she would have taught many classes? There is a reason that becomes apparent towards the end of the novel, but only at the expense of the bulk of the novel feeling awkward. But had the reasons been laid out early on, it would have ruined the tension. A bit of a dilemma.
This also has an impact on the pacing, which is slow with the first half of the novel (at least) giving little indication of where it was going. This was addressed with asides to the reader along the lines of ‘at this point nobody had to die’, or ‘if only I had walked away at that point’. I paraphrase, but the tendency to rely on prolepsis to cover up a slow story is pretty clunky.
And the language is clunky. Alex’s narrative feels leaden and soporific. There’s a great focus on the geography of Edinburgh (which is impeccably correct) with little actual sense of place. Aside from the basement teaching room in Rankeillor Street, the rest of the city seems to be nothing more than the location of specific transactions. Where the text is interwoven with the diary of one of the kids, it provides some level of relief, allowing a fast track to understanding motivation. But this is the only real source of three dimensional characterisation. Alex’s narrative – perhaps blunted by grief – is just flat.
There are also some elements of legal and police process that don’t feel right – and indeed seem to be inconsistent from the first part of the novel to the second. Some of the behaviour doesn’t quite feel right either, particularly Alex’s compulsive Friday meanderings.
On the positive front, the story is intriguing and when (eventually) the story takes off, it is quite compelling. At the end, it feels as though it was more enjoyable than it felt whilst being read. The parallels between the Greek tragedies and modern day play out well, albeit they are spelled out quite heavily in the final pages. There is enough in the way of ideas to make one curious to see where Natalie Haynes takes it next – and hopefully she will iron out her difficulties in technique in due course.
Overall verdict – worth reading, but only just.
Alex Morris returns to her old university town, Edinburgh, to teach in a Pupil Referral Unit after the death of her fiancé; although she has scant teaching experience, she wants to escape from London and the memories it holds. Inevitably, a grieving Alex becomes too involved with the lives of her students, especially one class, and when she decides to teach a course on Greek tragedy, she is unprepared for the emotions that it elicits, both in herself and in her pupils. For me, this debut novel was promising but not quite there yet; it occupies tricky territory between literary fiction and thriller, and although I like Natalie Haynes's attempt to combine the two (with shades of The Secret History, although apart from the Greek connection, this novel is very different) I ultimately did not find it as memorable as I felt it ought to be.
Haynes's prose is straightforward but effective. Her evocation of Edinburgh is the most impressive thing about the novel, and I liked the way that the greyness of a Scottish winter impinged subtly on the characters, without becoming too obvious. Characterisation is also achieved economically and effectively - although Alex and her colleagues are not hugely complex personalities, there was a strong sense of how they related to themselves and each other. I felt a little more unsure about the characterisation of the five teenagers in Alex's class. When they appear in scenes from Alex's perspective, their presentation is effective and convincing, but a good chunk of the novel is made up of excerpts from one of their diaries, and in these sections, I felt that Haynes had not quite captured the voice of a teenager. It isn't that the diary entries aren't plausible, but I felt that it was in these bits of the novel that the prose became most pedestrian, and I would have liked to see something more along the lines of Rhys Thomas's The Suicide Club, which manages to depict its teenage narrator's detachment from the adult world without sounding dated or cliched.
Although this book largely works on a literary level, I found that the thriller aspects were less effective. The development of the plot works very well, and I read the novel swiftly. However, the ending is a bit underwhelming, and I found the brief prologue and the convoluted explanation of it at the end irritating. I would have preferred to see the diary entries excised to leave room for a more detailed exploration of the final events and Alex's reaction, especially as I felt the entries gave rather too much away. However, I would still recommend this novel overall, and I look forward to seeing what Haynes writes next.