From the back cover:
As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed—even comforted—by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.
Firstly, I caution all to avoid looking this up on Amazon. When creating the draft for this review, I looked only at the tags there to determine the correct category for it (was it, in fact, science fiction as I had thought?) and found a great big spoiler lurking for me there.
Happily, though, this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel. There were still plenty of secrets to go around. The story was told first-person as if from Kathy to someone who’d had a similar experience to her own, which ensured that the truths about Hailsham and the students could be meted out in small increments without this seeming arbitrary. Her recollections did not occur in a linear way, so there was a bit of popping about through time that could be a little confusing at first but never lost the thread of the story or the point being made.
Thematically, I was reminded a great deal of A Handmaid’s Tale. The setting seemed to be normal 1990s England, though eventually one realized that something very extraordinary had happened to society. Kathy and the others lived such an isolated existence, even as adults, that it was only at the very end of the novel that the full scope was revealed. It was sad, but in a quiet sort of way, if that makes sense.
If I’ve been vague, it’s because I’ve attempted to avoid spoilers, since the way in which details were doled out in the story was so carefully done. I really did like it very much, and particularly admired the restrained structure in the writing.