The story (or is it a memoir) is based on a year in the life of a newly appointed headmaster at a small village school. It’s an unofficial account, based on the Headmaster’s alternative log book, of the ups and downs of school (and village) life. It captures the essence of residing and working in a Northern village, in the seventies.
Where to start? If I judged this book by its cover, there would be two problems:
1. The cover is very unappealing (and, dare I say, dull?)
2. The tagline describes this book as ‘hilarious’ – this gives the reader certain expectations, and I’m sorry to say, I was disappointed. Very disappointed.
While this book is not hilarious (I would expect to laugh out loud at a hilarious book), some of the characters and situations gave rise to a smile. I’d describe the book as warm and gentle, rather than humorous. I really wanted to like this book, as Jack Sheffield is a very good storyteller; unfortunately, his story just did not appeal to me and I found it rather slow. I didn’t really want to read on (not that there was much follow-through from chapter to chapter – it’s more of a collection of separate incidents, I felt). I rarely give up on a book, though, and did finish it. I was relieved to do so.
I feel it harsh to criticise the book so much, as don’t think that it was aimed at me. If I remembered the seventies, I’d probably be able to relate more to the scenarios within, and to the characters. I must say that I did shed a tear at a particularly touching moment or two, which shows that the author is very skilled at conveying emotional situations (or that I’m a softy where children are concerned) – but I didn’t particularly care about the characters themselves. I felt disconnected from them. I also didn’t appreciate the excess use of the Northern dialect – I understand that Mr Sheffield was trying to emphasise the sense of being in Yorkshire, but it was just too much (and as you know, I’m from Up North, myself).
I think that someone in their fifties or upwards, who was either at primary school in the seventies or had children at school during this time, would get more out of this book than I did. This book is the literary equivalent of your favourite male relative sitting you down and relaying tales of his younger days. I’d give this book 6 out of 10: well-written but I wouldn’t read more of the series.