St James school for girls 1977-1981
I have just finished Shame On You and it hit me so hard with memories that I almost had to check it wasn't me who had written it.
All the teachers seemed to have their victims and they picked the same child or small group of children to blame every time. Miss Caldwell obviously selected Clara, that much is autobiographical. For me it was Miss Hartigan (later Mrs Skinner) and Mrs Coxle (?sp). Luckily I was one of 3 who were picked on every lesson, Clara's character Caroline definitely suffered for being alone in it. I remember the humiliation. I remember the torturings to confess, that Clara describes. I remember what a fearsome person Miss Caldwell was and what the corner of her room looked like. I bet that licked streak was there but unfortunately I don't remember that.
Like all of you I was in no doubt that what she described that went on in that school and that home, happened to somebody or a few people. Because the way the SES people talk, the things they punished children for, the punishments they used, the silence and coldness, the forcing to confess to something you were accused of, is all too familiar to too many of us. Plus we had more insight into other children's homes because of the weeks we had to stay with others while our parents were off scrubbing floors and living in a present moment that didn't contain their kids. We witnessed other peoples cold houses, angry fathers and submissive floaty mothers even if ours weren't too bad.
I would say Clara still had a lot of anger when writing the book, not least toward her father. When the character swore, that was necessary for the storyline but when the narrator swore, I think that was burning anger. And there sure was a lot of that. She did say on the radio that her father didn't beat her, but she plainly has worse grudges against him than that if the psychological stuff is true. And the fact that even though his daughter has written a novel, he won't read it himself but is getting his wife to read it to him, suggests the SES crap is still more important to him than his children. I would like to see her mother struggling with F words and extra marital sex whilst reading it to him. That forms an amusing picture. My parents left the SES because my sister and I spent so much time in punishments we were rarely getting taught anything. Although with hindsight I wonder how much vedic maths, ancient greek, sanskrit, scripture, vedic dance etc an under 9 year old needs. My mother went along with all the sexist stuff up to a point and still does but when my father was involved in our discipline a handful of times, he did it SES style and my mum told him never to discipline us again. How one forgives a mother who didn't stand up for her babies, I don't know.
I too wondered how this novel would work for someone who doesn't recognise every person and place like I do. I think that because it's novel she added the thriller element which takes it into mainstream interest. I will see if I can lend it to someone who never went there to see what they thought. For me it was unputdownable, and despite having 2 toddlers I got through it in 2 days.
Thanks Clara, I needed that.
St James Girls School 1977-1981