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This week, we have a prescription for novels about those hardworking and integral people in our society: teachers.
It’s the first week back at school after the holidays, and the beginning of the strange time that is term 4, which somehow includes both exams and Christmas preparations, the most academically trying times and very tired students. Teachers get tired, too, and the extraordinary job they do has been made even more difficult by this very strange year. These books feature students and teachers, both in and out of the classroom.
· Mr Watts is the teacher who inspires and saves Matilda with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in Lloyd Jones’ novel Mr Pip, set in Bougainville during a devastating civil war.
· Before Charlotte Brontë wrote about a young woman called Jane Eyre, who is first a student at the vile Lowood School and then a teacher herself when she becomes a governess to the ward of Mr Rochester, she wrote about The Professor, and the career and relationships of a young teacher in Brussels.
· Bullying is the subject of Richard Mason’s Us, in which Jake’s experiences at public school haunts his years at Oxford, with lethal effects.
· The Secret History of a long-ago murder centres on a group of six closely-knit Classical Studies college students, in Donna Tartt’s compelling first novel.
· The student-teacher relationship is horribly abused in My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, in which a young woman looks back on what had been a love affair and sees it in a much less romantic light.
· Miss Honey is the ideal teacher for Matilda in Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, set against the tyrannical headmistress Miss Agatha Trunchbull.
· An English teacher in an urban school – white, middle-aged, middle-class and liberal – meets a man who’s none of those things in Nick Hornby’s Just Like You, and romance blossoms.
· The Outline trilogy by Rachel Cusk follows the experiences of a novelist who teaches creative writing; spare prose offers portraits of those she meets and draws by contrast a portrait of the narrator herself.
· A story of survival at an exclusive boarding school, Prep is Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, and an examination of the cruelty of cool.
· Professor and author Grady Tripp is the hero of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, struggling with his second novel, his complicated love life, and a troublesome student.