A band of young girls embarks on a Lord of the Flies–esque trip to the country.
With aplomb, Bathurst makes the leap from an unusually absorbing nonfiction debut—The Lighthouse Stevensons (1999), about the family that built most of the lighthouses on Scotland’s craggy shores—to this harrowing first novel about the hell of early teenage life. Several 14-year-old London schoolgirls are being sent via bus to an old manor in the countryside for a few weeks of mostly pointless exercises and activities under the watchful eye of two of the school’s more hated teachers. Not that the girls need anyone else to hate: there’s enough jealousy, competitiveness, and sheer evil encompassed in their daily interactions to fill the schedules of numerous full-time therapists. Hen, who seems the closest thing to a protagonist, hasn’t been her usual spunky self since she moved down from Scotland, and she’s on the verge of wasting away from anorexia. Her “friend” Jules is roiling with bitterness toward Hen (and toward just about everyone else) and loses no opportunity to show her up in front of the others. Ruling the roost is Caz, the preternaturally tanned, toned, well-developed and well-poised one who is roundly hated by every other girl on the trip, though you wouldn’t know it by the way the girls flop over themselves in a desperate, clawing battle to be her favored sycophant. When the girls aren’t busy tearing each other apart with biting comments and never-ending one-upmanship, they sneak into the small nearby town to wander around unsupervised and carouse with a group of loser guys who see easy prey. Nothing good comes out of any of it, of course, and there’s little hope, generally, to be found in these bleak and fiercely detailed pages.
As fiction, utterly devastating; as psychology, grim and apocalyptic: a ripped-bare portrait of the evil that children can do.