Wednesday 25 June 2014

Book Impressions - FAG by Jonathan Hill

I'm a fan of the author's previous work. The Maureen stories are funny with deceptive emotional depth. His short stories and drabbles are often dark and perceptive and they demonstrate a mastery of the art. This first full novel of his is a very different beast and represents a departure from his usual forms.

Not only does he stretch his literary endurance he also tackles some very difficult and emotive themes and he does so with such a skill that you wouldn't expect this to be his first novel. The bulk of the story takes place in a boys boarding school in the post war years of World War I. The practices of the boys to those weaker than that is shocking and unfortunately not something lost in the mists of history.

Bullying, even in (or maybe especially in) institutional forms is a terrible abuse and such is starkly portrayed on these pages. It also delves into how the boys handle (or don't as the case may be) these difficulties. Accompanying this is the discovery of the characters' sexuality and these are handled in a bold fashion. In many ways this is not a pleasant book to read, there is a great deal of unfairness and grim reality in this story.

It's worth the effort it takes to read. It's a moving tale and it's a testament to the author's talent that he does so in a way that keeps you absorbed in the unfolding events. If this is the quality we get for a first novel then I very much look forward to the next.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Brierley's Boarding School for Boys, 1930s

Gray - a kindly but weak teacher with a secret he cannot reveal
Hodges - a headmaster who wields a terrifying and brutal power
Keen - a first year boy bullied viciously and mercilessly
Smythe - a ringleader intent on enforcing his fagging rights
Thompson - a prefect struggling just to survive

A new term opens with appalling tragedy, the repercussions of which lead to devastating consequences. The headmaster, who will stop at nothing to cover up the incident, fights for the reputation of Brierley's, while several of the school's inhabitants are left fighting for their lives.

A novel of approximately 73,000 words. Readers should note that the book contains strong language, scenes of a sexual nature and adult themes.

Click here to buy FAG from Amazon (and it's an incredible read)

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