Alma Braithwaite, a thirty-something music teacher at a girls’ school in early-60s Exeter, lives alone amongst the dust of the house where she grew up. Orphaned at fifteen by an air raid that also destroyed part of her school, Alma seems stuck in the past. That’s certainly the view of the new headmistress, Miss Yates, whose reforming ways Alma seems determined to resist. But, though now elevated to the role of teacher at her old school, there’s a part of Alma that’s still a traumatised teenager, dependent on the former structures for her sense of self.
With its focus on music from classical to jazz, it might also function as an alternative biography of the author, Clare Morrall, also a music teacher born in Exeter. Having caused a stir with her debut novel, small-press published Astonishing Splashes of Colour, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize at the age of fifty, she’s an inspiration for the older writer (although fifty now seems rather young), it’s great to see she’s still going strong with her sixth novel. Thanks to Sceptre for my review copy.