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Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Alone in the Classroom (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Elizabeth Hay

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1722069,056 (3.52)45
Title:Alone in the Classroom
Authors:Elizabeth Hay
Info:MacLehose Press (2012), Hardcover

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Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay (2011)


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An enjoyable, rambling novel by a Canadian woman about teaching children, falling in love, and figuring out the meaning of the past.

Elizabeth Hay is a talented and accomplished Canadian writer. She was born on Lake Ontario in 1951 and has lived in various parts of her country. Her novels and other writings have been awarded various prizes. I found her novel to be full of literary gems; sharp descriptions and commentary on how people behave. Her narrative is complex and sometimes confusing. Its structure is not consistently linear, and people keep meeting those they had known in previous times. No plot summary can do it justice.

Alone in the Classroom is primarily a family story, narrated by Anne, a contemporary woman with a husband and two children. She devotes the first part of the book to telling stories about her favorite aunt, Connie, a lively, attractive, and independent woman. Like Anne’s parents, Connie grew up in a small town in Ontario. Barely out of school herself, she taught in a tiny town on the prairies of Saskatchewan. She loved teaching and her students, but feared and distrusted the man who was principal of the school. A tragedy occurred, and she left teaching and ended up back in Ontario as a journalist. When a young girl was murdered in her family’s home town, she covered the story. In the process she encountered people from her past who complicated her life. Ann continues relating Connie’s story and that of her larger extended family. Gradually the narrative shifts. Anne herself becomes the central character as she interacts with Connie and people from her past.
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  mdbrady | Sep 13, 2014 |
Intriguing story. Some fabulous quotes near the end ( )
  mechristie54 | Jun 18, 2014 |
as always when listening i get characters mixed up. reader mispronounced kazabazua. good story ( )
  mahallett | Feb 1, 2014 |
elizabeth hay is magical with her words and stories. it's amazing to me, her quiet but nuanced prose (if that makes sense?). i find that hay has a great ability to capture intimate details of human nature and convey them in her writing. but her style doesn't punch you in the face. it just sort of envelopes you gently yet she will still get deep into your bones. i sound like such a prig. sorry! :) i had the chance to hear hay read from this book a while ago and so it was nice having her voice in my mind while i was reading; she has a wonderful voice which isn't all that surprising given her years working in radio for the CBC. i never listen to audio books - but i wonder if she narrates her own works?

anyway...this story is great. it's unsettling and surprising. i was most fixated on the one thread woven through the story: the idea that the past is constantly being rediscovered and effects the lives of our families for years to come.

i was a bit surprised by the tiny, tiny bit of magical realism being dabbled with here - the idea of people being born as others from past lives - bringing memories, and birthmarks, into the new life they occupy. this was very interesting.

the only reason i didn't give this 5-stars is because of the structure. it's almost like two connected novellas and the move from one to the next was sudden. which is, for me, a marked contrast to the smooth nature of hay's style. ( )
  Booktrovert | Jul 5, 2013 |
Sometimes the characters a writer pursues take on a seeming life of their own, wresting control of a tale from the hand that holds the pen. In Alone in the Classroom, the narrator, Anne, sets out to write about her mother but gets diverted into the lives of her father's older sister, Connie, an unsettling sexual predator named Parley, a traumatized dyslexic boy named Michael, and the disturbing events that tie them together over the course of more than sixty years. Anne's mother still appears but she has become a minor character, and ultimately what sets out as biography reveals itself as autobiography. Or maybe that is always the case in some respect. And, if so, does it have its analog in fiction? Has Elizabeth Hay, herself, suffered the same befuddling as her narrator? Certainly the results here appear jumbled, moving forward (or back) in fits and starts. What appears to be the centre of the story collapses or suddenly shifts out of sight. As the details begin to emerge, connections between characters become clearer but their significance is obscured. And what you are left with is the muddled mess of lives lived. Only a writer with the expressive power and observational talent of a fine poet could turn such a muddle into a compelling narrative. A writer like Elizabeth Hay.

The story turns on the relationship between Connie, who is 18 in her first teaching post in a small town in Saskatchewan, her sadistic and frighteningly self-absorbed school principal, Parley, and the severely dyslexic (at the time dyslexia is not a recognized condition) student, Michael, who is, in Connie's eyes, clearly intelligent and sensitive. Both in this initial encounter and when Connie crosses paths with Parley again eight years later, Connie's strength and Parley's weakness are revealed. But the tripartite construction continues to re-emerge again and again, in different forms and often with different participants. What does it all mean? For Anne, the narrator imposing narrative order on disordered lives, its significance is rich. But Anne's need for order is just a further hue for Hay's palette, so the meaning for the reader remains open.

Writing that so faithfully brings its characters to life, escaping the simplifying tendency of art will, I think, naturally be at times confusing. At least I was confused at times. Certainly this writing forces the reader to slow down, to work things out, to make connections, even to reread sections. (I wanted to reread the book from the start numerous times as I went along, realizing that I had missed vital aspects on my first pass.) It's like the difference between reading a longhand letter from a dear friend and a scrabbled email; the former gives you pause, gladly. Elizabeth Hay's writing gives me pause. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote RandyMetcalfe | May 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Hay's fiction has always demonstrated a keen appreciation of people, places and history. This novel is further immutable evidence of that.
Alone in the Classroom is meant to be read slowly, or even better, read twice.
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Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
-- -- -- -- Theodore Roethke
For my mother and father
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From Amazon ca :Product Description
In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later, on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent end. These are only two of the mysteries in the life of the narrator's charismatic aunt, Connie Flood. As the narrator Anne pieces together her aunt's lifelong attachment to her former student Michael Graves, and her obsession with Parley Burns, the inscrutable principal implicated in the assault of Michael's younger sister. Her own story becomes connected with that of the past, and the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles -- aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter -- until a sudden, capsizing love changes Anne's life. Alone in the Classroom is Hay's most tense, intricate, and seductive novel yet.

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In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.… (more)

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