Review | In Loco Parentis | Nigel Bird

I downloaded In Loco Parentis as a freebie a few weeks ago because having worked in education for many years the title caught my eye.

The main character in this novel is Joe Campion, a thirty something young teacher, who has been given a class of five year olds for the new school year. The school is somewhere in North London and the pupils have a mix of social backgrounds. The school still has a smoking room which sets the novel a good few years ago and the smoking room is used by about half the staff. The teachers are a mixed bunch and there is a strongly authentic feel to the way in which Joe relates to them.

What an enigma this young man is: and I say young man because a great deal of the time he seems to be much younger than his 30+ years. He is a caring and popular teacher but his personal life is a mess and as the novel progresses it just gets worse.

Although there are plot elements which are somewhat implausible, the writing is so good that you are completely taken in by the story. The writing style is spare and there are no extraneous details: just enough to move the plot on. Dialogue is realistic, crisp and effective in moving the plot on as well; and it certainly does move on. I couldn't put this book down and nearly burned the dinner because I kept on reading it while I was cooking.

At the end of the book there is a note from the author about his own experience in schools and I was pleased to read this because at times his insights into the thoughts and actions of a primary school teacher are very real. In fact I read one section out loud to my husband and said something like, "This writer must have been a teacher once, you wouldn't know how that feels otherwise."

Joe's relationships with several people are explored in the novel: his step-sister, colleagues, parents of children in the school and his friends. His friend Wolf is an amazing study in nihilism and the drug-fuelled lifestyle that he shares with Joe for much of the novel is at times an assault on the senses. Some of the scenes are very dark and the contrast between Joe's school life and his home life is stark. The two main female characters are Emma and his stepsister Jenny. Both are interesting characters and the development of Joe's relationship with each is at the core of the novel. There are some intriguing scenes where Joe visits his therapist with hints at a scarred childhood but it is rather left to the reader to fill in the gaps.

In many ways this is a depressing novel but at times it made me laugh aloud especially some of the scenes when Joe and Emma are together. Overall I really enjoyed reading In Loco Parentis and liked the author's writing style very much.