The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
'When you open up, who will you let in? When Alex Morris loses her fiance in dreadful circumstances, she moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Alex takes a job at a Pupil Referral Unit, which accepts the students excluded from other schools in the city. These are troubled, difficult kids and Alex is terrified of what she's taken on. There is one class - a group of five teenagers - who intimidate Alex and every other teacher on The Unit. But with the help of the Greek tragedies she teaches, Alex gradually develops a rapport with them. Finding them enthralled by tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge, Alex even begins to worry that they are taking her lessons to heart, and that a whole new tragedy is being performed, right in front of her. The Amber Fury is a beautifully constructed psychological page-turner. It is a dark mystery of a novel about loss, obsession, and the deep, abiding human need to connect.'
The Amber Fury is one of those unexpected little gems that come along rarely and for a first novel the writer really should be proud of this book.
I loved the way in which the novel was written by the main character and also one of the students and how it managed to go back and forth in time without loosing its way or loosing the interest of the reader. Clearly Natalie Haynes has a great knowledge and appreciation of Greek tragedies and she managed to weave these brilliantly into the psyche of the students she taught.
Alex Morris the main character looses her fiance in tragic and violent circumstances in London and unable to face life with constant reminders of him and their lives together she moves to Edinburgh and takes a temporary teaching post as a drama therapist at a Pupil Refer Unit that takes students excluded from other schools. I felt a particular affinity as I also work in a school that has behavioral problems and could identify with these difficult students. One class is a group of 5 teenagers who are hostile and intimidating, they are deeply disturbed all having suffered traumas in their lives, all looking somehow to belong and be treated as normal. Alex finds they are hard to connect with and so introduces them to Greek tragedies in the hope that she can engage with them and develop a rapport.
I loved the way Natalie Haynes manages to explain whole Greek plays in layman's terms making them easy to understand and the mastery in which she manages to select those that mirror the lives of the students, this is why they are able to relate to the plays because they have all experienced a range of emotions that come through the tragedies. Without giving too much away and spoiling this excellent novel Alex is also going through her own private tragedy and leaving London has not freed her from her misery; because of this she does not see when things start to break down although she does start to worry when her lessons seem to be being taken to heart by the small group of 5 students and one of them in particular becomes obsessive about Alex past.
The atmosphere Natalie Haynes creates through her descriptive passages on location of the basement room she teaches in adds to the mood and tempo of both the students and her own sadness.
Along the way we learn something about each of the 5 students and through one in particular who keeps a diary and writes down all her innermost thoughts - brilliant way of keeping the pace going and intrigue alive. I kind of guessed what was going to happen but not for some time in the novel and was not completely sure until almost 3/4 of the way through and even then it was still gripping and I was hoping that somehow I was wrong - it was like a tragedy within a tragedy in that like the Greek plays it is played out through the book, the loss, the love, and retribution all revealed over a series of Acts in the book just like a Greek tragedy in modern times.
I have to give this book a 5 star rating; for me it had all the elements that make up a good read. it was well written, lovely use of language and psychological mystery, compelling and achingly sad in places it kept me wanting to read on but not wanting to get to the end. A very unusual novel and I am so glad that I read it.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending me this copy to review in exchange for a honest review.