“Alone in the Classroom” by Elizabeth Hay

aloneclassroomhay.jpegThis is an up-close look at teachers and their pets in a school on the Prairies, followed by the long-lasting effects of these pressures on the next generation in the Ottawa valley.

There is the golden woman teacher, beloved by all her pupils who cannot find love in her own life. Also unforgettable is the 32-year old bachelor, brilliant as teacher and principal, but sadistic and finally defeated by a mental breakdown.

The narrator is the niece of the star woman teacher, Connie Flood. It is up to her to tie in the family relationships, many of them in an Ottawa that we all know. It is a wrenching story altogether and brings in not one but two rapes and murders that come out of the unhealthy relationships developed at the Prairie school. It is a curiously timely moment to be reviewing the book, with world-wide attention on scandals with the head of the International Monetary Fund, as well as the governor of California grabbing the headlines.

Alone in the Classroom has the intuitive, penetrating writing we have come to enjoy with Hay’s earlier books, like Late Nights on Air, and Garbo Laughs. It is a much grimmer tale but Hay does not duck the ramifications and reviews call this her most compelling novel yet.

Review by Anne McDougall