Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meeting of February 25, 2013

Muse and Views met at Colette’s home, with Betty serving lovely pinwheel sandwiches, cheeses and other yummy hors d’oeuvres.  Present were Janet, Carla, Beth, Jane, Colette, Betty and Jolene.  We discussed Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay.

Janet had originally chosen the book because of its setting, with both Saskatchewan and Eastern Ontario figuring in the story.  It was clear from a look at the author’s biography that she often connects events in her stories with those in her own life.  She is now based in Ottawa, but has travelled widely and has lived in such diverse places as Owen Sound, Wiarton, London (England), Guelph, and even Latin America and the Queen Charlotte Islands.  She has written several books, most notably Late Nights on Air, a Giller Prize winner, inspired no doubt from her days as a broadcaster.

Alone in the Classroom received mixed reviews from our group.  Even Janet said that the book didn’t live up to expectations.  She admits regret at having gifted it to her mother-in-law, who during her lifetime had been a teacher in a one-room classroom.  The book does, however, show that people with a dark past sometimes cover up their problems by moving to small towns in need of professionals like the character Parley Burns.   

Most of our group agreed that the book had some good moments, with description and characterization being its strengths, rather than plot.  The influence of teachers struck a chord.   (The author likened good teachers  to people who may dip grey pebbles—children --into water to bring out their beautiful colours.)  References to Thomas Hardy, mustard gas, the dust bowl, and the Great Depression were also appreciated.  Jane did note inaccuracies regarding monarch butterflies, and others commented on how contrived the story seemed to be, with characters coincidentally crossing paths too often.   The biggest criticisms were that the narration jumped around a lot from Anne to Connie and that there was little resolution to the mysteries in the book.  For most, the story had a promising start but a disappointing finish.  Several ladies did say, however, that Hay’s writing was strong enough that it might prompt them to read another of her novels.

1 comment:

  1. It took me almost the whole month to read this book. I found the beginning of the book confusing and I had a difficult time keeping the characters straight and keeping interest in the book enough to continue reading.

    However, in the last week when I picked it up again, I was much more engrossed. Ms. Hay did a great job developing her main characters. My skin crawled sometimes when she described Parley Burns.“Parley moved through the school like mustard gas in subtle form, You were aware afterwards that you’d been poisoned.” You can almost feel the creepiness.

    I found the relationship between Connie and her niece the narrator Anne, interesting and it seems almost natural that Anne would take up with Michael. When she describes Michael, in my head, I saw a George Cluny type of face (without the beard of course), very expressive eyes and mouth. Very sexy.

    I have read her Giller Winner novel "Light Nights on Air" and found it equally difficult to get into and it never caught my interest as this one finally did.


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