Lives are ruined when a Satanic student plays erotic games with his teachers; a first novel from a 68-year-old Englishman.
The eponymous North, soon to graduate from his venerable Oxford high school, has already mastered the game of life; with his extraordinary charm and self-possession, he deals with adults as equals. We see this son of an American divorcée through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a senior teacher who lives alone since his wife suffered irreparable brain damage and his grown children moved far away. Lonely and prone to depression, he has fallen under North’s spell, while aware of a darkness in the student’s character. Martin is not a subtle writer. In case we miss the point, North is compared early on to Lucifer, the fallen angel; Paradise Lost is mentioned again and again. Seeing the narrator as more indulgent spectator than player, North confides in him without fear of betrayal. His first move is to seduce Bernie, an attractive young female teacher who falls for him right away. This upsets Monty Ross, a handsome young science teacher; Monty is married (his wife Jess is pregnant) but intent on pursuing Bernie. North senses correctly (he is never wrong) that Monty is bisexual, and sets out to seduce him too; in no time, both teachers are in thrall to him. To add to his mischief, North encourages the latent attraction between Monty and the headmaster Aitken, also married and bisexual. The hothouse intrigue amounts to a damp squib, however, since the characters are simply pawns being moved by the omnipotent North who, with his high-flown dialogue (“we voluptuaries know what is most important…the Keatsian idea of the bursting grape”), is just not credible. By the end, he has caused a suicide attempt, a mental hospital confinement and two staff suspensions. Will the hapless, complicit narrator be his final victim? That remains a question mark.
A concept-driven work that runs afoul of reality.