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5.0 out of 5 starsGreek tragedy acts as the intriguing framework of impending fate ...
Reviewed in the United States on August 29, 2014
Greek tragedy acts as the intriguing framework of impending fate. Alex has come to Edinbugh, Scotland to entirely escape the life she lost when her fiancé was killed in the street. An old mentor has tapped her to work in a school for the children no one else will take. While she engages all her classes, her older group ensnares her as well. Her lessons on Greek drama mirror the inner coil of a fate that is unwinding steadily. The writer has used the myths and plays in a literate prose that does more that frame a mystery unfolding. Alex, and her student Mel, ponder the role of fate. As the Greeks would have it, the Furies weave fate and form the threads of our inescapable futures. It is an intriguing premise and one that delivers the story of a crime as only part of the weaving of the tale.
4.0 out of 5 starsA good read, but not a novel about a drama therapist
Reviewed in the United States on June 10, 2015
The Furies says its main character is a dramatherapist, but she really isn't. She is a glorified drama teacher. In fact, her understanding of the psychology of the students she is working with is not as developed or extensive an understanding as someone who had been trained in dramatherapy would have. I did enjoy the book, but was not on the edge of my seat with fascination.
This book surprised me. I really liked it more than, I had expected. Interesting story about a woman who has been through tragedy, and finds solace in teaching troubled kids. Sounds like nothing special, but it is. It's just different than the average school teacher story, and an interesting twist unfolds. I like the way it ended as well. It was realistic, not corny.
Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2015
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The Furies is a somewhat intriguing psychological thriller that packs some punch, just not as much punch as I had hoped. Alex, the female protagonist, returns to Edinburgh to teach troubled teens and escape tragedy. The author hides much of the details of Alex's troubled past, dribbling them out over time in a manner I found controlling and annoying. The pacing wasn't "gripping" enough and I found the plot to be a bit contrived. I would skip this one.
5.0 out of 5 starsA completely engrossing and beautifully written novel about grief, obsession and classical greek tragedy. Awesome!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 10, 2018
One of my friends from university days is now an established journalist, and her most frequent advice to aspiring cub reporters is not to ‘bury the lead’, as many readers have a relatively short attention span. One should, she insists, instead pitch your key message as near the start of the piece as possible. As someone who spends his days drafting replies to correspondence received by government ministers, I often find myself relying upon that waning attention span. Still, out of respect for her, I am happy to try it her way. Here goes …
I have read well over four thousand books since I started listing them, back in January 1980, and this book would certainly rank in the top twenty or thirty. It is, quite simply, marvellous, with an alluring combination of powerful and utterly credible characters, watertight plotting, and a story that manages to encompass the full palette of emotions while simultaneously rendering an unobtrusive but enlightening course in classical Greek tragedy.
I first encountered Natalie Haynes through her engaging programmes on BBC Radio 4, in which she discusses classical literature and displays its enduring relevance, and the prism of understanding it can cast on modern life. Having been won over immediately by her radio performances, I was delighted to find that she had written a few novels, and by chance lighted upon this one as my starting point.
Another of my all time favourite novels is Donna Tartt’s debut, The Secret History, and I found myself recalling iit often as I read The Amber Fury. Donna Tartt’s novel famously recounts the experiences of a group of students at an exclusive, private college in America as they study the Greek classics and find themselves drawn ever deeper into the ancient world, seeking arcane enlightenment through Bacchanalian excess. Natalie Haynes’s novel is set in a pupil referral unit in Edinburgh, where a group of fifteen-year –old pupils who have been expelled from their mainstream schools for a variety of instances of extreme behavioural problems are brought together for a final chance to gain some sort of education. As the novel opens they are met by Alex Morris, a new teacher who wants to engage them in the study of drama.
Alex has her own problems being distraught with grief at the loss of her partner Luke. Following his death she has fled her former life in London, returning to Edinburgh where she had studied drama s an undergraduate. Her early encounters with her new pupils are difficult, and their challenging behaviour, which frequently morphs into outright hostility, almost drives her to give up. She does, however, persevere, and through her odd mix of patience and empathy, she manages to hook their interest, even to the extent of considering some classical Greek plays. These pupils have, after all, been acknowledged by their respective previous schools as being highly intelligent, though their behavioural issues have prevented them achieving academic progress to date.
One of the first things that Alex asks them to do is to keep journals. She doesn’t ask to read them, but explains that the discipline will help them understand their changing responses to the plays that they study. As the story progresses, we start to read one of the journals, from which we see that one of the pupils has developed a fascination with Alex.
Haynes manages the development of the story admirably, keeping the reader hooked, intrigued to discover exactly what had happened to Luke to drive Alex to such extravagant excesses of grief. Natalie Haynes obviously loves the Greek tragedies, and is clearly highly knowledgeable about them. She happily shares her erudition without ever seeming to preach to the reader. It is, for example, completely plausible that the unruly pupils should become so enamoured of Ales as a teacher. I felt a bit that way myself!
To say that this is my favourite book so far this year is rather meaningless so early in January, but I shall be very surprised (and extremely fortunate), if I am not still citing this as one of my favourite books of the year when we get around to the end of December.
3.0 out of 5 starsFrom The Athens of the North Comes....
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 12, 2018
...this tale about grief, and its power to torment and transform. Alex's desire to be 'wrapped up in her grief like a comfortable old coat' as she comes to terms with her loss causes this novel to languish for long periods as her bereavement phases slowly play themselves out through the Greek drama she teaches in her Edinburgh PRU. That neat little device turns the novel into a theatrical tour de force, to some extent, except that her grief becomes owned and watched by her students in eerily prurient ways. Is their interest just feeding the chorus line, the italicized letters running through the novel, or is it an expression of genuine solicitude for the grieving Alex? The Greek connections are fastened to the text a bit too stubbornly at times and won't move out of their own plotted parameters. No point revealing what happens, but there is too much of Alex's solipsistic voice absorbing the care of others and giving little back in return. Sometimes, the asphyxiating blanket of solitude and anguish clogs up the arteries of the story and too many of the chapters are spent reeling in the 'relevance' of Euripides and Aeschylus to the violent and painful underworld of teenage breakdown.
Though they grow and change and move on, teenagers are drawn with all their manias and tantrums fully intact, with Ricky providing a deft subtext to the lessons with his pencil and paper. Children both reach out and reject each other in ways that mirror the adult world, one where the conquering hero never comes, and people are forced to confess their guilt openly in order to make others deal more freely with theirs. A feel good factor will eventually kick in, once all the right choices have been made and the boxes of tissues have been stashed away.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 5, 2018
Page turning enough - I stayed up late to finish it ... but was then somewhat underwhelmed as well as tired.
Concerns the education, through the medium of Greek tragedy, by a young former theatrical director-turned-drama-teacher/therapist, at an Edinburgh 'Unit' of a group of children excluded from mainstream schools. Parallel themes (fate, revenge) rather than events (nobody marries his mother here).
The characters are economically drawn, the learning worn lightly, the enigmas deftly revealed. I just wanted it to add up to more, not less than the sum of its parts.
4.0 out of 5 stars‘And the grim, unerring Furies, closing for the kill’
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 24, 2015
A Fury is an avenging goddess who acts to punish a terrible crime. Alex Morris is a young woman who has suffered an awful personal tragedy in London and who now works in a Pupil Referral Unit in Edinburgh. She has a class of troubled young teenagers who become increasingly involved and affected by their study of Greek Tragedy – and Alex herself. When what happened to her is revealed, an act of avenging violence becomes inevitable.
There is a clever idea here and a well-written story. I enjoyed the class discussion of Greek Tragedies, which was informed and intelligent. The plot was involving and just about believable. I did feel that the sense of tragic inevitability which is so prevalent meant that the outcome was never really in doubt, which dispelled much of the tension which the author attempted to build up in the early stages – but I enjoyed this novel all the same.