A meticulously constructed and chilling study of desire and influence.


The grim truth about a boarding school gradually unfolds through shifting perspectives and various found documents.

Spanish writer Mesa writes of power struggles at Wybrany College, an elite boarding school where the wealthy send their children to protect them from the violence of the city. Part 1 opens with an escape attempt by several of the schoolgirls. Their fear of being caught belies the school’s ambiance of freedom. In subsequent chapters, we learn of the relationships among the headmaster, Señor J., his underlings, and his students. Relationships between adults at the school involve private humiliation and subjugation. The relationships among the children mirror those of the adults. Señor J. takes on a protégé, a boy with disabilities: “The Headmaster is drawn to his submission, that passive acceptance of his fate.” The student, Ignacio, is transformed from passivity to confidence through his relationship with Señor J. and then begins to subjugate his peers. At the school, everyone seems to “barter with love, with desire.” Relationships are transactional. There are hierarchies: between teachers and students and between the regular students and the “Specials,” or students on scholarship. Several students and a teacher go missing. The teacher’s replacement, who's the narrator of Part 2, is a wannabe writer posing as a licensed educator. He senses from early on that something is hidden within the school—a set of rules, perhaps, or something more sinister. “There’s an unhealthy stillness,” he writes, “something crouching behind the silence.” As the substitute gets closer to the truth he learns what danger lies in revealing the school’s secrets. A coda, in the form of fiction written by the teacher whom the substitute replaces, shines a light on the school’s opaque systems and secrets.

A meticulously constructed and chilling study of desire and influence.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948830-14-0

Page Count: 237

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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