4 January 2022

Review: A NARROW DOOR, Joanne Harris

Synopsis (publisher)

Now I'm in charge, the gates are my gates. The rules are my rules.

It's an incendiary moment for St Oswald's school. For the first time in its history, a headmistress is in power, the gates opening to girls.

Rebecca Buckfast has spilled blood to reach this position. Barely forty, she is just starting to reap the harvest of her ambition. As the new regime takes on the old guard, the ground shifts. And with it, the remains of a body are discovered.

But Rebecca is here to make her mark. She'll bury the past so deep it will evade even her own memory, just like she has done before. After all...

You can't keep a good woman down

My Take

From the author:
Like the two previous books, A NARROW DOOR is written as a dialogue between two first-person narrators; a kind of chess game between Roy Straitley (the White King) and in this case, Rebecca Price/Buckfast (The Black Queen). The adversarial structure remains, but in this case, the relationship between the two opponents is more cordial – for some part of the journey, at least, their interests are aligned.

This was a challenging read. If you look at the list below, you will see that it is some time since I read the previous book in the series, and I remember finding that a challenging read because of the distance between it and the previous title. My memory is not what it was...

However the structure of A NARROW DOOR, plus its length, also makes it a challenging read. There are a number of time frames - mainly 1971 when Rebecca Price was 5 years old and her brother Connor disappeared; 1989 when Rebecca becomes a Supply teacher at King Henry's Grammar School for Boys; 2006 when Rebecca becomes the principal of St. Oswald's Academy. Narratives alternate between time frames, and sometimes it is up to the reader to decide who the narrator is.

Events are seen mainly through the eyes of Rebecca and Roy Straitley who in 2006 has been a master at St Oswald's for 30 years. But neither of them are particularly reliable narrators. When her brother disappeared she saw things with a child's eyes, and did not always understand what was happening.

Rebecca has fought hard to get to where she is: the new Headmaster of St. Oswald's. She does not intend to stay for long - just long enough to bring girls into the mix, as well as uncover what happened to her older brother over 30 years earlier. Rebecca has her own impression of what happened to him, and who was responsible, but even so she has to change her interpretation of the events more than once, and the final conclusion comes even as a surprise to her.

My rating: 4.8

I've also read

4.5, blueeyedboy

From Fantastic Fiction

   1. Blueeyedboy (2010)
   2. Gentlemen and Players (2005)
   3. Different Class (2016)
   4. A Narrow Door (2021)

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