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Alone in the Classroom

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,660 ratings  ·  350 reviews
In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.

Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adven
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by McClelland & Stewart
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3.30  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,660 ratings  ·  350 reviews

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Megan Baxter
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
For a book about the horrible murder of one young girl, an attack on another, stalking, obsession, and numerous affairs and broken marriages, there's surprisingly little urgency. The whole thing felt very detached from events that I would expect to feel compelling, but from which the narrative kept its emotional distance.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can
May 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Paleyellowstar by: Holly
It is rare that I am as frustrated by a novel as I was with this one. Hay chooses Connie's niece Anne as the narrator and her view of things is inaccurate and unsatisfying to say the least. I wanted to know more about Connie, Michael and Syd because I really liked them. I also wanted to find out if Parley had raped Susan and killed Ethel. I wondered how Anne, a third party, could possibly know things like the scene between Parley and Susan Graves.

Everything just seemed muddled. The timeline and
Ruth Seeley
Oct 22, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a tough book to review. I'm torn by the fact that Hay is a marvellous, compelling, powerful writer, but seems to have struggled with the focus of this novel rather unsuccessfully and inconclusively. Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? You could make a case for at least two characters for each of these roles. The protagonist might be the narrator Anne - or it could be her aunt Connie. The antagonist could be the high school principal whose actions lead to at least one of his st ...more
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Writing about the interweaving of human relationships is not an easy task, even for the best of writers. But fortunately, Elizabeth Hay is among the best in writers. In fact, she may be one of the very finest writers at work in Canada today.

Rich in imaginings, masterfully conceived, flawlessly executed, Alone in the Classroom is a nuanced book, told by the present day perspective of Anne who is researching her family history.

It’s a book not easily defined – part murder mystery, part historical m
Aban (Aby)
Jul 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
I really liked "Student of Weather" and "Late Nights on Air" and was eager to read Hay's latest book. I was disappointed!

The story begins in 1929 when a very young Connie Flood starts teaching in rural Saskatchewan. She befriends a dyslexic boy, Michael, who idolizes her. Connie is confused and disconcerted by the behaviour of Parley Burns, the school principal, but finds support and guidance from Syd Goodwin, the school inspector. A tragedy occurs in the community and, soon after, Parley and Co
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: available-mcld
This saga set in set in Saskatchewan describes how circumstances associated with a murder ripple through several generations. So much of Elizabeth Hay’s prose compelled this reader to linger! She clearly has an eye for beauty in the outdoors and captures it skillfully….. “Birds compete for the berries. Robins peck the guts out of strawberries. Finches, robins, blue jays, kingbirds, cedar waxwings – all of them go after the chokeberries that favor fencerows and roadsides and the edges of open woo ...more
Katia N
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've never read anything by Elizabeth Hay before and I am glad I've picked up this book. It is a family history written in a slow-burning beautiful style. She writes without any desire to impress. And this actually makes the book very memorable. It reads almost like a biography, very personal. And it made me think how much of our destiny is predetermined by our knowledge of our family history... Is it better to know or not to know? What is the role of a collective memory transferred from the one ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
In this spectacularly subtle novel, Giller prizewinner Elizabeth Hay (for Late Nights on Air) braids family history and natural history, and paints an intricate, beguiling portrait of rural Canadian life in Saskatchewan and in the Ottawa Valley. Spanning the years 1927-2007, it opens up with the brutal murder of young schoolgirl Ethel Wier in 1937 Argyle (in Saskatchewan), a silver pail of chokecherries spilled near her bruised and battered body. This tragedy unfolds not in isolation, but connec ...more
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
I cannot believe that an author of Hay's ability could have started this project with an end to finishing it as she did.

The initial insertion briefly of first person Anne (a writer, we eventually discover, of Hay's sex, generation and mother's locale which tempts the reader into visions of creative non-fiction,) almost incidentally made the set up needlessly complex if not convoluted. It distracted greatly from what I found to be a story as gripping and powerful as Late Nights on Air, a story t
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
elizabeth hay is magical with her words and stories. it's amazing to me, her quiet but nuanced prose (if that makes sense?). i find that hay has a great ability to capture intimate details of human nature and convey them in her writing. but her style doesn't punch you in the face. it just sort of envelopes you gently yet she will still get deep into your bones. i sound like such a prig. sorry! :) i had the chance to hear hay read from this book a while ago and so it was nice having her voice in ...more
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
i recently read Sarah's Key which seems hugely popular right now. i thought it contrived and a little patronizing. and ... one of my biggest complaints was how the author tied up every emotional thread into a big bow at the end. i'm sure it was suppose to be satisfying but i did not find it so. it did not ring true to me at all.

Alone in the Classroom .... well, it's a bit messier, and therefore seems far more honest ... AND ... far more true-to-life. it took me a while to get into it ... probabl
Gorgeous language, worth reading the book. But the story was soft and opaque, hard to grasp and didn't reveal.
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath."

For it is in the verdant, succulent, jungle of memories and hopes that this book establishes itself, absorbing the reader in its tale of Eriksonian generativity. It is also a visual feast, akin to finding oneself in a world of post-impressionist painting, cavorting with the likes of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet. Hay's writing is visual, psychological and metaphorical. Her words sing and as she says in the book, "It's possibl
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
I totally didn't get the point of this book. I was enjoying the first half or so well enough, with the mystery of Ethel laid out, Connie in the schoolhouse in Saskatchewan and Parley and Michael and then OMG what happened to Susan, and it's hinted that somehow all this history is going to come together and build to revelations that, if not shocking, might be enriching, or surprising, or lend new perspectives to some of the characters. And then the book just meanders off into complete repetetive ...more
Mar 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I found the shifts in time and place a bit confusing. There's a certain remove to the narrative, similar to that of Late Nights on Air, though with perhaps less symmetry and focus. This book meanders. But that's alright. I suppose that's what Elizabeth Hay meant for it to do.

There's such truth and poetic simplicity to everything she writes. A lovely book.
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
"He had entered her life on the last day of September in 1929. Tweedy, sophisticated, perverse; an excellent teacher who doubled as principle. He arrived three weeks late, an otherwise punctual man. Jewel was the name of the town in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan". So starts Chapter 2 of this engrossing book. Alone in the Classroom is the third Elizabeth Hay book I've read. A Student of Weather is one of my all time favourite books. Late Nights On Air, a Giller prize winner, I also enjoyed ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
McClelland & Stewart|April 10, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-7710-3797-9

Story Description:

Elizabeth Hay’s highly acclaimed, national bestseller now in a deluxe paperback edition.

Hay’s runaway bestseller novel crosses generations and cuts to the bone of universal truth about love and our relationship with the past. In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent e
Oct 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
In the silence of a rural classroom a story unfolds. It is a story of tragedy and loss; a story that examines human nature, love, hate and so much more.

Connie's niece, Anne narrates the story. This was confusing for me at times, as much of the story is about Connie's past. Considering this, I think the impact would have been greater if narrated by Connie. Also, I wanted to know much more about certain characters such as Michael and Syd. The characters were developed enough, however at times I fe
Kathy Mcdonald
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
The lens which Elizabeth Hay turned on Yellowknife in Late Nights on Air is turned to Saskatchewan in this far reaching story of families and the complexities of relationships. The Ottawa Valley is also a major character. The story goes back and forth from the past to the present and it covers a period of time from the 1920s to the present. It's for me an entirely different story from Late Nights on Air, though I would agree that the themes are similar. Beautifully told, I could see the country ...more
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Really good read. Family history mixed in with a bit of a murder (or two) mystery. Lovely settings and great literary references.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canlit, 2017-books
Connie was a teacher in small town Saskatchewan where she encountered Parley Burns, the school principal who was an unsettling man. A young girl dies in a fire after an encounter with him, never specified but certainly implied, and Connie leaves the Prairies to become a reporter in the Ottawa Valley eventually, covering a murder of a young woman and this is where she encounters Burns again. The two deaths are not related. She also meets up again with a former student, Michael Graves, who was str ...more
Friederike Knabe
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadian-lit
With her new novel 'Alone in the Classroom', award-winning Canadian author, Elizabeth Hay, takes us on a journey into an inner world that is, at least in one aspect or another, familiar to all of us. Each of us has been 'alone in the classroom', just staring at walls or out of a window, struggling with a crucial test; or, emotionally alone, subdued, frightened... in front of a teacher or a principal. It is often said that memories of (positive or negative) school situations are among the most vi ...more
Gabriele Goldstone
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
First E Hay book I've read and I plan to read her others. Beautiful writing. Complicated plot, kind of like real life.
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it
It is beautifully written. There are some absolutely lovely passages. On the other hand it often had me confused and left me frustrated. I know this isn’t the most helpful review but there you have it. You will likely be left wondering.
Paula Dembeck
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a multigenerational story that takes place in two different Canadian locations over a ten year period. Anne Flood is exploring her past, trying to know her family’s history and to understand herself. She always admired her Aunt Connie Flood, who was one of the teachers who went west during the early years of the Depression to staff schools on the Prairies. They taught the children of immigrants, bankers and shopkeepers with a focus on reading and basic math. Although the story starts wit ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Not really sure about this one. Very dislocated. I enjoyed that it took place where I live. New Yorkers likely get this all the time.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This beautifully written novel, set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley, focuses on a young schoolteacher, Connie Flood, a backward student, Michael, whom she tries to help, and Parley Burns, the principal, who casts a dark shadow over all who come under his influence. The story begins with a murder, and unfolds both in the present, with the adult Anne trying to make sense of her aunt's story, and in the past, in the early days of Connie's tenure at the small rural school.

It's not a novel for
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
The plot involves a schoolgirl murdered in the Upper Ottawa Valley during the 1940s, another one who died in a fire in Saskatchewan years earlier, the creepy, sadistic principal linked to both girls, and the teacher who brings these stories together and tells them to her niece Annie, the narrator.

At times the structure is confusing since the narrative meanders back and forth in both time and place. This structure, however, suggests the process of learning, a slow discovery of truths as we progr
Jun 23, 2011 rated it really liked it

What an interesting novel! Set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley, this story goes back and forth in time from 1929 to present day. The narrator of the story is Anne Elizabeth. Anne is the niece of Connie Flood, the main character in this story. Author Elizabeth Hay, through the character of Anne, introduces the reader to many wonderfully well developed personalities like Michael Graves, Parley Burns and Syd Goodwin. Through Anne’s research on her Aunt Connie, we become involved in all of the
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Um..I didn't love it, nor hate it. 6 25 Sep 07, 2017 07:08AM  
SDG Reads: SDG Reads 2015 3 5 Jun 23, 2015 03:23PM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: Update 1-5 ~ Alone in the classroom 1 8 Jan 05, 2013 08:07AM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: Alone in the classroom by Elizabeth Hay Rational 1 10 Sep 30, 2012 07:32PM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: Alone in the classroom by Elizabeth Hay Rational 1 6 Sep 30, 2012 07:32PM  

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From Elizabeth Hay's web site:
"Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, the daughter of a high school principal and a painter, and one of four children. When she was fifteen, a year in England opened up her world and set her on the path to becoming a writer. She attended the University of Toronto, then moved out west, and in 1974 went north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. For th
“And when is it ever convincing, the belief others have in your abilities? You know perfectly well they can't see the mess inside you.” 13 likes
“A child lies like a grey pebble on the shore until a certain teacher picks him up and dips him in water, and suddenly you see all the colours and patterns in the dull stone, and it’s marvelous for the stone and marvelous for the teacher.” 5 likes
More quotes…