Pass it on

At the end of the film ‘the History Boys’ there’s a deliciously ironic moment where the headmaster reads a eulogy for Hector, the General Studies teacher who has died in a motorcycle accident after Irwin, his pillion passenger, ‘leant the wrong way’. The headmaster intones that Hector ‘loved words’ and wanted to inspire a ‘love of literature’ (pronounced litricha), in his students. The irony is, of course, that Hector wanted no such thing. We viewed him earlier, at Fountains Abbey, telling the female History teacher, Mrs Lintott (Tottie), that he hated the idea that his students would ever say, in their adult lives, that they loved words. Hector’s ideas were much more important than that, he wanted the students to feel that someone else’s words meant something to them. That the way that they may be feeling at a particular time in their lives may have already been experienced by someone before. He believes that poetry and stories hold a truth that the reader can experience and enjoy. Irwin, on the other hand is a relativist. He teaches the boys to argue against history and to take a point of view and argue it. he believes that ‘truth has nothing to do with it’.

Bennet leaves us much to think about after we leave the cinema. We have been entertained by some very intelligent and talented boys who have just been accepted into Oxford. As they sing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ for Hector we consider their attachment to a flawed, yet great teacher. Is this an oxymoron? He was flawed as an individual, but he left a lasting impression on the boys he taught, and not just for his sexual procilivities, which, anyway, the boys were far too sophisticated to be affected by.

After seeing the play I was left with a few small disatisfactions in the film, but overall, it was a very good adaptation. I could have done without the mention of ‘Media Studies’ which is far too recent. Similarly, the introduction of both the P.E. and the Art teacher were unnecessary and they were really just window dressing. The boys, were fantastic and very believable, and their acceptance of one another was heartening. Not too many schools could boast of students like this, but it is not any less believable for it. Their bursting into song in class was hilarious and a legacy of Hector’s eclectic style. It is worth noting that Irwin ends up working for BBC2 and is reported as being journalist rather than historian by Tottie.

Go and see the film. Go and see the play. Go and buy the screenplay (it’s on my wishlist)

For more information on the film see:-


Enduring Love

Ian McEwan’s novel, which I actually read for work, was an interesting one. It deals with a popular science writer who is caught up in a calamitous situation when out one day taking a picnic with his wife. He is one of five men who try to save a young boy from a ballooning accident. This event proves to be an epiphanic moment for one of the would be saviours and a cataclysm for another.

Joe is stalked by Jed, a sufferer of deClerambault’s syndrome, an illness whereby the sufferer becomes fixated on another person, believing that they love them and that the love is mutual. McEwan practices an illusion on his audience by including an appendix ostensibly written by two doctors for the British Review of Psychiatry which completely outlines the case that he has written about in his novel. Several reviewers have been taken in by this clever ruse and it adds an interesting twist to the story.

The writing is beautiful, McEwan deals in the minutae of everyday life with precision and the emotions of his characters are carefully controlled. I do think that perhaps Joe is a bit too controlled, considering this man is ruining his life and his wife suspects him of making the whole thing up. Eventually he sets off on a more dangerous course when he decides that the law cannot help him and there has already been an attempt on his life. This creates more dramatic tension, but I still get the feeling that Joe is much too well behaved. He is the epitome of a middle class Englishman, manners are much more important than anything else.

This is an interesting novel, beautifully written. I guess the main problem with my reaction to it is the fact that I did not really empathise with Joe, I found it hard to believe that someone would react so passively, and of course this is the thing, that is what causes Clarissa to disbelieve him in the first place, I suspect that in this case it is more of a problem with the reader than the writer. Although I enjoyed it, I did not fully believe in Joe.

History Boys

I’m a bit behind the times. I actually saw this play last week and I’ve not yet blogged about it even though I did rave about it a bit through the week. It was a funny and thought provoking play about a group of sixth form boys at a Sheffield school. We were introduced to them through their General Studies class with Hector and old iconoclastic teacher who loves the classics, particularly another old bugger, Auden. He gives the boys lifts home on his motorbike and feels them up on the way home. The boys aren’t traumatised by this, in fact they vie for his attention and are very fond of him. Hector teaches the boys to love poetry and classic literature and even teaches them French, much to the disgust of the Head teacher who is unable to quantify Hector’s teaching and so brings in a much more educationally acceptable teacher Irwin (Matthew Newton) who knows how to get the boys to pass their final exams and get into the much coveted Oxford University.
Alan Bennett shows his scorn for this character by giving him a job on BBC2 after having him fall of Hector’s bike because he ‘leant the wrong way’.
The boys are the wittiest bunch and wryly observe the goings on at the school. They are resilient survivors who show us that teachers don’t really understand them (with the possible exception of Hector). They are confident and accepting of one another.
The educational debate threaded through the play is particularly apt at the moment given the governmental concern for quantifying everything that teachers do and the possibility of performance pay for teachers who ‘value add’. Irwin would get paid under this system as he could be percieved to have taught them how to pass the exams and get into Oxford; Hector would not get paid even though his is the spine that exists in the body of their knowledge and his teaching will continue to support their love of learning. Get that Julie Bishop!
This is a must see play if you are at all interested in education, learning (yes, they are separate things) and like a good laugh. The funniest scene was the French scene where the boys were using the subjunctive to wish for what all 18 year old boys wish for. The head teacher enters the room and the boys become wounded soldiers crying ‘Aidez moi!’ . They clearly do not need help as they frolic around the room, one trouserless. At several times the audience was convulsed by the wit threaded through the play and it is one that will stay with you for quite some time, much like Hector’s teaching I suspect.

The Raw Shark Texts

Well, I finished ‘the Ringmaster’s Daugher’. I really enjoyed it. The ending was not at all predictable. It really dealt well with the writer’s world and a very unusual character who lived right on the edge of it and yet was eventually too valuable for his own good.

I was reading through the paper at the weekend looking for new books and I found this one. The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall. WOW! I read it in two nights and absolutely loved it. It’s a fantastic concept. Part Matrix, part Wizard of Oz, part Jasper Fforde and part Jaws. It was unpredictable and fascinating.
Eric wakes up and hasn’t any clue where he is. What’s worse, he doesn’t have any idea who he is. He finds a series of letters and they lead him to a psychiatrist who he assumes is helping him. She tells him not to open any letters addressed to the ‘first’ Eric. Which he manages to do for an amazingly long time lulled into a false sense of security by his boring domesticity and daytime TV. Eventually he gets curious and opens some mail which leads him into a fantastic adventure to find the real him. He travels across Northern England looking for one Dr Trey Fidorous and finds Scout (or she finds him). They set off in search of Dr Fidorous pursued by a vicious Ludovicius. (well you’ll have to read the book to find out what this is, I can’t give it all away) Needless to say this was a masterpiece of modern fiction. I loved the way that it played with the idea that texts were ideas bigger than reality. Hmm maybe they’re Platonic forms? anyway it’s the cult book of the year.
Must read. Look out for the quirky text layout too.

Jostein Gaarder

Ok, It’s time I got down to business. I’m going to make a concerted effort to make more time for this. I’m reading a book by Jostein Gaarder (did I spell that right, the book’s at home and I can’t check it) about a boy who lives more in his imagination than in the real world (sounds like me!). He sells plots for stories as a living and is called ‘the spider’. It looks very interesting and I’ve only just begun.

Well, I couldn’t leave it at that. The book is called the Ringmaster’s Daughter.Here’s some background about Jostein Gaarder on wikipedia.
I also found a fabulous picture of him looking like an extra from Abba the Movie.