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Alone in the Classroom Hardcover – International Edition, April 26, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A Globe and Mail Best Book

"Luminous. . . . Alone in the Classroom is meant to be read slowly, or even better, read twice. The story that unfolds, replete with poetry and punishment, passionate entanglements and incestuous love, is even richer and more rewarding the second time around." 
—Globe and Mail
"Gripping. . . . A multilayered tale, the novel is at once a love story, a murder mystery and a journey into the darkest chambers of the human heart. Transcendent prose. . . . [Hay] conveys masterfully the complex power plays of the classroom." 
Ottawa Citizen

About the Author

ELIZABETH HAY is the author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel Late Nights On Air as well as three other award-winning works of fiction, Small Change, A Student of Weather, and Garbo Laughs. Formerly a radio broadcaster, she has spent time in Mexico and New York City, and now lives in Ottawa.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771037945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771037948
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,802,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
From the very first chapter of this exquisitely-written book, I was already pegging it as one of the best I had read this year. It opens in 1937 with a young teenaged girl picking chokecherries on a hillside in Ontario, taking time to describe how they may be cooked into ruby-sweet jelly, or to list the procession of berries through the seasons. Picking wild strawberries in June, for instance, "your fingers gently grappling to dislodge the firm, pale, tiny necks from their leafy hulls -- to raspberries in July that raked your hands and arms as you grabbed a thorny cane and swung it back like a throat about to be slit, the soft red fruit like gobbets of blood -- to blueberries in August abloom with ghostly light that erased itself in your fingers." With writing like this, who would not want to read further?

A paragraph later, however, the girl is found dead. The perspective shifts to the present, with the narrator (not yet the focused personality she will later become) sitting in an Ottawa library reading reports of this long-ago murder of her mother's school-friend. "Stories from her past draw me on. The shadows and underbrush, the evening light and imminent sorrow, until I stumble over what I've been looking for without quite knowing what it was, and look up." The articles are written by a young reporter, Connie Flood, and by some miraculous alchemy, the frame shifts again to the death of another young teen, a decade earlier still, in a small town in Saskatchewan.

You virtually hold your breath for the next hundred pages or so as this part of the story unfolds.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Reason for Reading: I've been interested in reading this author for a while now and haven't got around to it yet. The early 1930's and the Saskatchewan setting pulled me into starting off with her latest book.

An excellent book! Though a hard one to describe. The plot has many layers and is meandering to the point where it is not exactly what drives the book. The book is most certainly character driven and the relationships between these characters are what propels the story along. The story covers the time period from 1929 to 2008 and focuses on one Connie Flood, a school teacher, journalist, traveler; a woman of independence who takes lovers as she wants them and lives life to its fullest according to her small needs though she has a large presence. The book is told from the point of view of Connie's niece, who is telling the story from the first person, looking back telling a tale of which she is omniscient from each individual character's thoughts and feelings. This pov was hard to get used to, I must admit. The narrator only appears in the beginnings of the story a few times and when the word "I" is used I found it confusing to remember that "I" was not Connie but the narrator, Anne. This becomes more clear a little over half way through the book when Anne actually becomes a character in the story but then the flipping from near past to far past with this continued point of view still felt unusual to me. Now, it's not that I was totally annoyed with the pov, it was just hard to remember who was telling the tale, and it did slow down my reading speed.

The characters and their relationships, mostly triangles, are what make this book such an enticing, intense read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Alone in the Classroom" is such a wonderful story and one recommended by some of the best reviewers on Amazon that I'm surprised at how little attention it garnered. Elizabeth Hay's story of a family history reaching back to the 1920's and up to the current day might remind a reader of "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner where the narrative is drawn from the diaries and oral history of ancestors that's given voice by modern day descendent who projects on to those ancestors emotions, feelings, voice and action. In Stegner's case I found the writing a bit uninspired but here the technique seems to work beautifully with tension, surprises, insights and splendid prose.

And it is the writing that really drew me in. "A shadow fell over them. Parley moved through the school like mustard gas in subtle form. You were aware afterwards that you'd been poisoned." is how Hay describes a new principal / teach that has started at the school where much of the early story takes place.

Immediately an uneasy feeing about Parley Burns sits in your lap. Connie Flood a new teacher and only 19 is the only one to challenge Burns and see him as both alluring and threatening. She is idealistic. She seeks out new ways to reach students. Her life becomes the center of Hay's story as told by her niece some 70 years later. At some points Connie speaks for herself and at other times her niece Anne projects or speaks for herself. There are times when there is a bit of confusion as to who is the grandmother or the daughter or the father as Hay tells both a story of Anne's paternal and maternal sides but ultimately it's clear and the writing is both a joy to read and chock full of brilliant observation.
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