I bought this novel at the festival last year, but it was actually a case of mistaken identity. I thought Natalie Haynes was talking in a session I was about to attend, but then I checked the programme again and she wasn’t down to speak. That meant unfortunately I left this book in the bedroom and didn’t get it signed. Then however it turned out she was talking anyway to cover for someone who had been unable to attend. Therefore I didn’t manage to get my copy signed, which is a shame as I thought this book was excellent.
A grieving Alex moves to Edinburgh after the death of her husband in violent circumstances. She has previously been a theatre director but takes a job as a drama teacher at a pupil referral unit. She becomes very attached to one class of teenagers whom she teaches the Greek tragedies too in an effort to get them engaged with something. Unfortunately whilst she succeeds, she isn’t aware of just how strongly these stories of revenge and violence will affect this group of children.
As soon as I started reading this, I couldn’t put it down. It was not my usual choice as I do love a good serial killer, murder mystery type novel, however it was a great departure from my norm. The story of Alex as she tries to deal with her grief is interspersed with diary entries from one of the children, which gives a different almost behind the scenes angle to what is happening in the classroom. Alongside this we start to unravel what actually happened to Luke, Alex’s husband, and find out why Alex goes to London every week. Interspersed throughout all of this there is the description of the Greek plays done in such a simple context that I felt I was learning things along the way. It was interesting to see how one crime affected the people around it, and how that lead to another one.
The story itself with hindsight is quite slow, there is a lot of description and it’s pretty obvious what is going to happen right from the start. However that in no way diminishes any enjoyment I had. Each chapter builds up to the actual violent outcome, and it’s written in the style of a play with three acts. Putting aside the fact that I’m not convinced that Alex would actually have been allowed to teach a bunch of children at any school due to her being a director not a teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s hard to explain what made it so compelling but its most definitely worth a read and I’m very glad of the mistaken identity purchase.