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School Ties-bookcover

By: Jonathan Hall

School Ties

Pages: 294 Ratings:
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England, 1945: while still a boy, Paul Elliott loses his parents in a car accident. Whisked away to West Yorkshire from his home in High Wycombe, Paul finds a new home with his father’s brother, Don, the headmaster of Oxton House, a small preparatory school. Despite some setbacks, Paul quickly encounters academic success, setting him on a trajectory that will see him become, by his mid-twenties, Don’s presumed successor at the school.

In the ensuing years, as he begins to build Oxton House into a thriving, modern school, Paul will experience highs and lows in both his professional and private life. His troubled marriage to the captivating and capricious Catriona start rumours that will threaten to overturn Paul’s reputation and destroy his career.

School Ties’ authentic and engaging insight into the prep. school world of a different era owes much to the author’s own experience as a headmaster. The book’s narrator, Paul, is an intriguing combination of humility and ambition, keen to do his best but sometimes his own worst enemy. The novel abounds in well-drawn, often quirky characters, from pushy parents to eccentric colleagues. In particular, Paul’s uncle Don is wonderfully portrayed as a kindly pedagogue, who relies more and more on the loyalty of his nephew as the story unfolds.

Born in 1937, Jonathan Hall grew up in an academic environment which was to shape his whole life. His parents owned and ran Arnold Lodge, a preparatory school in Leamington Spa. Despite his own largely unrewarding school days, a spell of teaching at Arnold Lodge made him realise that its future lay with him. Taking the reins at the age of only 25, he ran the school for almost thirty years, retiring early in 1991 when he was diagnosed with a brain turmour. Under his leadership, pupil numbers increased from 50 to 400, and on a visit to the school, the then Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher said: “I know that our inspectorate hold this school in very high regard and it is of a very high reputation.”

In 2000 he published his autobiography No End in Sight, which topped the bestseller list at Waterstone’s in his home town.

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