THE OLD WORLD by Jonathan Strong


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 A repetitive, implausible, and strangely narrated tale of four men and the effects a favorite high-school teacher has on their later lives. It's 1961, and a few high-school juniors--talented singer Henry, orphaned German immigrant Rupert, proper Malcolm, and writer Kip--are inexplicably chosen for special after-school tutorials with Mrs. Anna Aylmer. Though she's the school's Spanish teacher, Anna tutors the boys in literature, language, and feeling. The story is narrated in the first person by one of the boys (we never know which one), now grown to middle age, who rhapsodizes over the short time the students spent with Anna before her death in a car accident. There's an abundance of repetitious testimony to her enchantment (``No one else in our upbringing had presented study as quite such an ever-expanding field, finally boundless, no end to what we might find there''), but the obsessional attachment the four display has little weight, since we're only told of the existence of the obsession, not its origin. Twenty or so years later, the four are vacationing on a Caribbean island, reminiscing about Anna, tracing the path of their still connected lives (all the men are gay) and calling her spirit to them with the Caribbean tradition of the jumbie--a ceremonial banquet for the ghost of the dead. The second half of the story is narrated by the ghost of Anna, who's been summoned by their memories as she--in a hook ending--elucidates her own connection with the boys. Strong (Offspring, 1995, etc.) struggles to give resonance and purpose to the tale, but the overly sensitive and sophisticated dialogue of the adolescent boys and their peculiar--and not really understandably grounded--fixation tend to defeat his efforts.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-944072-81-X
Page count: 176pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1997


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