Roy Straitley has been a St. Oswald’s teacher for over thirty years. He’s not easily ruffled, and he survived the events of the previous year. St. Oswald’s isn’t doing as well after those events, though, and there’s a new crisis team and headmaster come to help out. Change is never easy, but it’s made worse when the one initiating said change is a nightmare from Straitley’s past come back to haunt him. He’s not so sure he’ll survive this year the way he did the last.
I first heard about this book at Beth Fish Reads. Her brief description intrigued me because it sounded like it might be set in the same school and with the same teacher as one of my favorite books, Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. A quick glance at GoodReads showed that indeed it was St. Oswald’s and Straitley in this book, and I put the book on hold at my local library at once. It came last week and I rushed through it. Then I read it through a second time more slowly.
The book alternates perspectives between Straitley, the dusty old Latin master, and a student diary from nearly 25 years before. Decades of history are explored – scandals within the school, accusations and mental illness, conflicts between progress and tradition, the trials of aging. Most of the present-day conflict in Different Class is quite relevant to today’s world – sexuality, bullying, the use of religion to push personal agenda. I don’t want to give any more details that might take away from reading the book, but I will say that Straitley, as a mid-60s old-style conservative school master, is a fascinating narrator in a world that is becoming more open and outspoken about subjects like homosexuality. He’s faced with things that he never even imagined through the course of his teaching career, and I adore the way he finds his stance in the classroom and in life.
A note on these being related books: Different Class takes place a year after Gentlemen and Players. Both books are standalone, just sharing a few characters and a setting in common. There’s apparently a third book set in the same town that I have yet to read. These books – at least the two I’ve read – can be read independently of each other, while also providing depth to this fictional little world. I will say that I’m anxious to revisit G&P in the near future! Also, only time can tell, but my initial impression is that I prefer G&P to this book. Of course, I didn’t expect G&P to become one of my favorites when I read it – it just sort of stayed with me – and maybe this will do the same. It didn’t quite live up to G&P, though. Having said that, it was still a marvelous book, and I think the biggest reasons for the difference in my mind has to do with my personal experience reading the book: reading it too fast; reading it in print instead of on audio**; diary entries never being my favorite form of writing; seeking out the misdirection rather than just going along for the ride. Again, time will tell. I look forward to having this one in my personal collection one day, and to many rereads to come.
**I really wanted to experience this on audio the way I did G&P the first time. However, when I search for the audio copy, I get redirected to an Audible page that tells me that the book is no longer available to me at this time. It was released in April last year, but I’ve been unable to find any information as to why it no longer exists.