Book Review: Girls’ High, by Barbara Anderson

cv_girls_highAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

This is a republication in the excellent VUP classics series.

I always thought I had read this book, and probably I have. However it came as if new, which was an unexpected pleasure.

The staff of Girls’ High are the main characters, although there are appearances by family members and the occasional pupil. Mostly those from last year’s 4F….

Having worked in a school – although not a girls’ one – I found this book hilariously funny.  Barbara Anderson must have set up a bug in some school staffroom, because it all rings hideously and cringe-makingly true of staff meetings in any school. The undercurrents, the inattention, the minds on almost anything except the matter being discussed – all there in glorious technicolour!

The power-plays, the cliques and relationships, the tensions, the stereotypical teachers are well drawn and infuriatingly accurate. You can, if you are a teacher, surely swap most of this cast of characters for those in your own staff room. Try it!

Nick Hornby said of it, when it was first published:

Even before its first page, Girls High promises freshness and originality: its contents page is simply irresistible. ‘Jenni Murphy thinks about her sexuality’; ‘Sooze thinks about Bryce’s job in the morgue’; ‘Thea Sinclair thinks about the Aerial Survey in 1978’; ‘Miss Franklin remembers the smell of pepper.’One immediately turns to the back of the book, to find a photograph of the woman who thinks about Jenni Murphy thinking about her sexuality.

Chapter headings are these days something of a rarity, but it’s wonderful just to read them, as Hornby did, and begin to wonder, before you begin to read.

It’s more a collection of short pieces than a full-blown novel, I think, but regardless it works well. Towards the end when the annual Leavers’ Play is being planned, the dialogue (always good) goes up a couple of notches and the press-ganging of reluctant staff into full support of the project is again redolent of staffrooms everywhere.

The main characters – Carmen, Sooze, Margot – are credible – but then all the characters are credible, even if stereotypically recognisable. But I don’t mean that in a negative way – it merely adds to the humour, which is clever and sharp.

This book is still a delight and if you have not read Barbara Anderson’s work, I am sure this will encourage you to read further. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Girls High
by Barbara Anderson
Published by VUP Classics
ISBN 9781776562107

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