Alone In The Classroom, by Elizabeth Hay – a (brief) review

Pretty good.  (Is that too brief?  I should say a bit more, maybe.)  I didn’t enjoy it quite so much as her other novels, A Student Of Weather and (especially) Late Nights On Air, but maybe I just wasn’t in the right space for it.  The writing was delicious, as her writing always is.  I did find it a little difficult to keep track of characters; the story spans several generations of women.  Rather than say much more about it, I think I’m just going to quote a few favourite passages.

p. 171-172:  What she had missed in Europe was what she had missed out West, a landscape full of swimming lakes and pine needles baking in the sun and rock you could walk across like banquet tables.  Jacob’s pillow wasn’t so hard to imagine here, how he might have rested his head on a stone and dreamt of a ladder rising up to heaven, and then years later met up with the brother he had wronged only to find himself forgiven.  Like Esau, this part of the world was a wild and generous place.

Elizabeth Hay is the only writer I know of who venerates the Eastern Ontario landscape as much as I do.  And she nails it, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere.  I can smell the pine needles and feel the scraggly pink granite under my bare feet when I read passages like this.  I like that she compares the land to a person, Esau; I am reminded of Neil Gaiman’s personification of Fiddler’s Green in the Sandman series.  (I’m pretty sure mine is the only review of Alone In The Classroom that will compare it, however briefly, to a graphic novel.)

p. 273:  My grandfather, her second child, would become the tenderest of fathers.  There are the stories my mother tells, that when she was small, she sat in her high chair beside him and held his hand while they ate their supper.

Something about that imagery is incredibly sweet to me.  Such a well chosen detail; it really illustrates the idea of tenderness.


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