Joanne Harris is an Anglo-French author, an Honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. Her novels and short stories cover a diverse range of subject matter, including suspense, magic realism, mythology and historical fiction. The author also has three cookbooks to her name, but her most notable work was the 1999 novel Chocolat.
The story takes place in the context of St Oswalds Academy, an English public school with more tradition than its faded reputation would suggest. Previously a grammar school for boys, St Oswalds is now co-ed and has a new Head, Rebecca Buckfast, an ambitious woman. As the first female head of school, Ms Buckfast is determined to make something of St Oswalds, herself, and the girls that now attend those hallowed halls. But this story is no stylised interplay between stuffy English academics bantering barbed witticisms in their battle over the future of St Oswalds.
A group of boys venture into the out-of-bounds building site for the new school swimming facility and find what appears to be human remains. The boys have a reputation for mischief. They report their find to aging Latin teacher Roy Straitly, he understands boys. When Roy goes to verify their story, he discovers a prefect’s badge from the neighbouring school, King Henry’s Grammar.
Torn between duty and institutional loyalty, Roy reports to the headmistress. A dark past threatens to undermine the future. Can Rebecca Buckfast impede Roy’s sense of duty long enough for the past to remain buried?
There are two primary voices in this book, Rebecca Buckfast’s and Roy’s. Roy symbolises innocence that blindly recognises the truth only when it is too late. His faith in old associates and traditional values is challenged by the story Rebecca doles out to him in dribs and drabs, while school life resumes for the Michaelmas term.
Rebecca’s story is one of prejudice and putdowns at the hands of male privilege and of her struggle to establish herself. Piece by piece, stage by stage, the reader is led through Rebecca’s life from a small child to present day.
The underlying male-female role tensions are on obvious display as some kind of stalking horse. Cleverly done and blatant in their exposure of male prejudice and privilege, they serve to heighten the suspense and soften judgement the reader might have for Ms Buckfast.
A Narrow Door is well written; although I did not find it a page turner, it did keep me coming back and intrigued. What was the story going to reveal? Paedophilia? Murder? Or something more sinister? For a person new to the craft of writing and storytelling, this is an instructive read.
We are pleased that our last official members’ night of the year can go ahead in person at the Bunch of Grapes hotel. This is a free event but, unfortunately, restrictions mean we will be limited in the number of members who can attend.
Please book a ticket to reserve your place – a link has been sent to current members through the newsletter. If you haven’t received it or find the process difficult, please get in touch!
The meeting will be seated, as per usual, with drinks and meals available to purchase, and members will be provided with a drink ticket on arrival valid for basic alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, tea and coffee!
Important: If you book a ticket and find you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket so those on the waitlist will have the opportunity to attend. Instructions for rescinding the booking will be included with your ticket.
Please note: Covid regulations apply, so those attending will need to sign in on arrival, wear a mask when not seated, and be able to show their double-vaccination certificate.
Where: Bunch of Grapes, 401 Pleasant St South, Ballarat When: 6.30pm, 24 November 2021 Cost: FREE but booking is required. Drink ticket for each member (basic alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
Ballarat Writers is excited to announce the final shortlist for the Southern Cross Short Story Competition. These final 12 stories were chosen from an initial 215 entries, which is a magnificent achievement.
Judge Julie Koh is working hard to decide a winner from this strong bunch of stories. Winners will be announced at the Ballarat Writers’ November meeting on Wednesday the 24th. This is scheduled to be held at the Bunch of Grapes hotel in Pleasant Street, Ballarat, from 7.30pm.
Congratulations to the shortlisted writers, in no particular order:
Best known these days as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films, Miriam Margolyes has worked since 1965 as a voice-over artist, theatre and screen actor, and documentary maker. She also appears regularly on talk shows such as The Graham Norton Show.
This is a no-holds-barred telling of her life history, from her great-grandfather, who was jailed for seven years, to her less than gracious meeting with the Queen at a Book Week reception in 2005, and beyond. As her appearances on talk shows indicate, Miriam freely speaks her mind, and in her autobiography, with no censor (other than the publishers’ lawyers), she freely lets rip with both language and tales of her activities and proclivities.
Miriam’s mother, Ruth Sandmann, did the ‘right thing’ by marrying a doctor, Joseph Margolyes. They moved from Glasgow to Oxford during World War II, five months before Miriam was born. She remained the only child of the quiet, retiring doctor and his social-climbing wife. By all accounts she was much loved and describes an extremely close relationship with her mother in particular.
The writing is mostly chronological, though with characteristic asides and leaps forward and backward in time. Miriam describes her school and university days, her working life and, most importantly for her, her friendships. The more controversial aspects of her life are also covered: her sexuality and sexual encounters generally, and her political stances in relation to both Britain and Palestine/Israel.
The writing displays Miriam’s usual verve and vivacity; it’s possible to hear her voice, that is, her own voice and not one of the many she has developed in her professional life, while reading her words. It sometimes seems like she has met, and freely drops the names of, everyone in the British acting world for the past 60 years, but there’s no sense of it being name-dropping for the sake of boosting her own image. Miriam displays a healthy ego when she talks about knowing how good she is at her job. On the other hand, there is a deep sadness when she talks about her poor body image and the ravages of time on a body not well cared for.
Miriam pulls no punches in relation to some of her more outrageous behaviour or her attitude to sex and sexuality. Sometimes the writing leaves one gasping, not just for what she’s written but with the descriptions of what she’s done. The reader is left gobsmacked that anyone would even do some of the things she describes.
The book reveals the life of a complex, talented and most of all interesting personality with all its foibles. If you’re prepared to be shocked from time to time, I highly recommend it.
Review by: M. Elisabeth Bridson
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group
Review copy provided by the publisher
Next Members’ Night
SAVE THE DATE:
The BWI AGM will be held on Wednesday 8th February at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel. Committee reports for 2022 can be read here, where you will also find position descriptions, nomination forms for committee positions, and a proxy voting form.
* Social nights are usually held at the Bunch of Grapes on the last Wednesday of each month (except December).