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Alone in the Classroom, by Elizabeth Hay.

June 25, 2014

Alone in the Classroom, by Elizabeth Hay. MacLehose Press (2013), Paperback.  First Edition, 2011.

An enjoyable, rambling novel by a Canadian woman about teaching children, falling in love, and figuring out the meaning of the past.

Elizabeth Hay is a talented and accomplished Canadian writer. She was born on Lake Ontario in 1951 and has lived in various parts of her country. Her novels and other writings have been awarded various prizes. I found her novel to be full of literary gems; sharp descriptions and commentary on how people behave. Her narrative is complex and sometimes confusing. Its structure is not consistently linear, and people keep meeting those they had known in previous times. No plot summary can do it justice.

Alone in the Classroom is primarily a family story, narrated by Anne, a contemporary woman with a husband and two children. She devotes the first part of the book to telling stories about her favorite aunt, Connie, a lively, attractive, and independent woman. Like Anne’s parents, Connie grew up in a small town in Ontario. Barely out of school herself, she taught in a tiny town on the prairies of Saskatchewan. She loved teaching and her students, but feared and distrusted the man who was principal of the school. A tragedy occurred, and she left teaching and ended up back in Ontario as a journalist. When a young girl was murdered in her family’s home town, she covered the story. In the process she encountered people from her past who complicated her life. Ann continues relating Connie’s story and that of her larger extended family. Gradually the narrative shifts. Anne herself becomes the central character as she interacts with Connie and people from her past.

I liked the pieces of this unusual book, especially the conversations about teaching, and I appreciated the various subplots.  I wished, however, it had had more sense of unity.

Thanks to the publisher who sent me this ebook to review.


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