After 30 years at St Oswald's Grammar in North Yorkshire, Latin master Roy Straitley has seen all kinds of boys come and go. Each class has its clowns, its rebels, its underdogs, its 'Brodie' boys who, whilst of course he doesn't have favourites, hold a special place in an old teacher's heart.
But every so often there's a boy who doesn't fit the mould. A troublemaker. A boy with hidden shadows inside. With insolvency and academic failure looming, a new broom has arrived at the venerable school, bringing PowerPoint, sharp suits and even sixth-form girls to the dusty corridors. But while Straitley does his sardonic best to resist this march to the future, a shadow from his past is stirring. A boy who even 20 years on haunts his teacher's dreams. A boy capable of bad things.
©2016 Joanne Harris (P)2016 Random House Audiobooks
Award-winning British author Joanne Harris is a consummate writer, wasting nary a word as she teasingly peels back the many layers of her characters and unfolds a plot of intrigue, betrayal and friendship.
Perhaps best known internationally for her acclaimed 2000 novel Chocolat, which was turned into a film starring Johnny Depp that same year, her catalogue of writings is quite diverse.
Different Class is a dual-voiced narrative in first person, set in and around St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys over two time periods – 1981, when we hear primarily from a disturbed young student, and 2005, when aging Latin master Roy Straitley takes the narrative reigns. Both characters reveal the unfolding mystery in both time periods, but it’s not until each side of the tale comes to a head in 2005 that their stories synchronise in a gripping finale.
In the latter time frame, St Oswald’s is struggling to overcome a recent tragedy that resulted in the death of a student and the loss of their headmaster. Steeped in tradition, the school and Straitley struggle to accept their rapidly changing world when the past comes back to haunt them and the future threatens to leave them behind. Former student Johnny Harrington is brought in as the new Head, along with his new ‘crisis team’ to rebrand and modernise the school. Twenty-four years prior, Harrington is implicated in another scandal which will result in a teacher being jailed.
The first person narrative of both storytellers is superbly realised. A single word; a throwaway comment; a simple action: all provide insight into the loveable but staid mind of Straitley, and the confused, vicious mind of the unnamed student.
The characters are brought to life with immense skill by readers Steven Pacey and Ewan Goddard respectively. Pacey, in particular, is one of the best audiobook narrators of our day. His nuanced characterisations immediately let the listener know who is speaking. Goddard has much less experience but you wouldn’t know it listening to his stellar reading. He completely embodies the vile, troubled student.
Different Class is the third book in Harris’ stories that centre around the fictional town of Malbry. It follows on directly from the first of these, Gentlemen and Players, although it is a stand-alone novel that needs no introduction. Having not read the previous two books, they’re now most certainly on the radar.
The unabridged audiobook of Different Class runs 14 hours and 55 minutes and is available from audible.com.au. It’s a compelling exposé on the place of tradition, the strength of loyalty, and the deepest, darkest secrets that can utterly destroy lives.
Read my full review and other audiobook reviews under the Entertainment section of glamadelaide dot com dot au.
"Fifteen hours of skilfully drip-fed darkness!"
I loved this! Skilfully drip-fed to reveal the darkness, two narrative voices tell this tale of apparently buried scandal at St Oswald's Grammar School in fictional Malbry. One is Roy Straitley old-school Latin teacher who peppers his account with Latin lines, fiercely loyal to the school and his special 'Brodie boys' which are his life; and Ziggy, a boy who spent only a short time at St Oswald's but whose evil seeps through everything that happened there from that time so many years ago. The audiobook voices are just right: Straitley's strictly moral, out-dated mind-set conveyed by Stephen Pacey, and Ziggy's deluded, frightening and evil manipulation conveyed in Ewan Goddard's much higher-pitched wheedling.
St Oswald's has been enveloped and almost destroyed by terrible events which are slowly revealed: the death of a pupil and the imprisonment of a much-loved member of staff. A Crisis Team is brought in to save the school - representing all the management speak and high tech business practices loathed by Straitley. But worst of all, the new Head-in-a-suit is Harrrington, an ex-pupil whom Straitley had always disliked and distrusted. The new management is all for moving forward, but Ziggy's narrative gradually reveals the truth behind all the hideous events at St Oswald's, ensuring that the past events, far from being forgotten, continue to fester and erupt into jealousy-fuelled violence involving an increasing circle of victims - or are they perpetrators?.
It's a very complex plot and to give more away would spoil the listening, but it is no coincidence that Operation Yewtree blew up whilst Joanne Harris was writing the book. Dark themes are explored. What do you really know about what goes on in the darkness of your friends' minds? How can the abuser and the victim become entangled and change roles? Can the church, therapy or Juries be relied on to produce the truth?
"great story and characterisation"
really enjoyed this. well narrated and captivating. I would recommend it to all ans may even listen to it again.
"Had to give up on this one"
I began to wonder after a couple of hours listening, if the author would ever get down to the story but I persisted. However, I had to give up at the accounts of animals being tortured. Not an author I will return to.
"Hooked from the start"
Joanne Harris had me from the start with this one. The characters, especially Mr Straightly were so believable. Narrated superbly. I feel I know St Oswalds intimately. I didn't want it to end. More of this wonderful school drama please Ms Harris.
"The second book as brilliant as the first..."
Everything that I loved about the first. Joanne Harris has a great ability to keep her characters engaging and the storyline flows with complete ease.
I cannot compare really, as the title says a Different Class. Unlike many other crime novels, this one did not suddenly jump to an unbelievable conclusion to wrap it up. Well done Ms Harris
I adore Steven Pacey's narrations and will read anything by him, at first I was a bit concerned about Ewan Goddard's but he actually did a really good job, and I thought the combination of them both worked well.
No, because that would be a spoiler. Audible think of a better question than this
I was moved when it finished as I wanted to listen to more
Love love love. Brilliantly written, superb narration, great story. I do hope we get to hear from the Latin Master again............and soon
The description of the characters personality all entirely believable
The story invokes all of the emotions
The narrators both brilliantly portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of the characters
There were many moments all relating to the main charachter
Would have loved this to go on and on
"Nearly as good as Gentlemen and Players"
The narration of this book was very good and the story was nearly as good as Gentlemen & Players, of which it is the sequel.
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