Roy Straitley has been a school master for over thirty years. He has dealt with all sorts of students, but one student will effect him for years after he leaves the school, haunting Straitley into old age. A dark thriller, I was drawn to Different Class both by its premise and the author. I loved Chocolat and other novels by Harris I have read. She is brilliant at creating otherworldly characters, intriguing scenarios and dark description.
Different Class is quite a weighty book and it reminded me of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch because it was dark and gripping but also at times difficult to read. I felt that I needed to know what happened but it was a hard book to read with any pace because it is so dark, often giving children the very worst characteristics possible. Without giving the plot away, the novel strays into subject matter that I wasn’t expecting, something which Harris very often does with her novels. She investigates human nature, including the often very dark parts of humanity hidden beneath the surface.
About half way through I thought I knew where the novel might be going. I didn’t trust any of the characters, even one of the characters who seems likeable I was unsure of. I think the reason this book is at times hard work, is because there are so few favourable characters for most of the novel. I found myself suspicious of everyone and everything, doubting motives as well as the information I was being given.
This is a really well structured book, with numerous twists and turns. Although hard to read it is a great novel. It’s not something to read if you’re feeling down about the world, or the state of humanity, but it does make you think. I kept trying to work out what was going on but didn’t get there.
That said I do feel that the book looses momentum. It is a good, strong ending but there wasn’t that moment when I finished the book of ‘WOW’ that I got with books such as The Secret History, or more recently The Harry Quebert Afair and Black Water Lilies. Dark, reflective, twisty and fast paced are all fair descriptions of Different Class, but the stakes don’t feel quite high enough and the ending isn’t quite shocking enough.
I feel that Different Class is worth a read. It’s gripping and intriguing and different to anything I have read. However it’s not the most entertaining novel and I do think you have to be in the right mindset and have enough time to read it in a short space of time because the fractured narrative can be confusing. But whether you read it in a day, a week, or a month, I doubt you’ll see any of the twists coming!