Joanne Harris is admirable in her versatility. From penning the deliciously bright Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange and Blackberry Pie, to the dark and gothic mystery of Sleep Pale Sister.
Of course, even her lighter tales have their darker moments, but it is her psychological mysteries that entice me the most. Different Class is one of these. Nestled in after the events of Gentlemen and Players, but before those of Blueeyedboy, it returns us to St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys and re-acquaints us with Roy Straitley and a few other characters that you may, or may not, recognise.
Different Class moves at a more leisurely pace than Gentlemen and Players, with Straitley placed as the white king, sharing the narrative duties with the black king, a character whose identity is, as expected, kept purposely anonymous. I did not find quite as many surprises in this as with the others, but that is not so much due to Harris’s writing, but more because when you expect the unexpected, you start looking outside the box for the answers. And there were still plenty of little twists to keep me intrigued. It felt almost as though I were trying to unravel an elaborate puzzle, seeking the deeper secret buried inside, and whilst it did not disappoint, I do feel that there were many hints and clues that I overlooked. I believe it would benefit from a repeated reading, maybe in close concert with the other two.
Roy Straitley is perhaps the most memorable of her cast of characters, with his acerbic wit and wry observations on the changing nature of education. He is very much an old schoolmaster, teacher of Latin and the classics, and feeling the push from the modern system. He still has his Brodie Boys, for which he shows unflinching loyalty, sometimes to his own disadvantage. His unnamed antagonist, whose story starts back in 1981, is darker, underlaid with creeping menace and makes for disconcerting reading.
Overall, this book was an enjoyable installment, despite the darker material: it does deal with homophobia and, although not graphically or intensely, child abuse. For a psychological novel, it is more a drama than a thriller, as the excitement does not really pick up the pace until fairly late in the book, with the earlier parts instead being replete with sinister undertones. A slow burn, rather than a quick fire. But definitely one worth a read.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
by Joanne Harris
Published by Doubleday
Here is a Q & A on Joanne Harris’ website about Different Class.