Review: A Good School by Richard Yates

Since reading Easter Parade at Christmas I have decided that I need to read everything Richard Yates has ever written. I am not actually sure how many books this amounts to, but thus far I’ve read three. (I read Revolutionary Road in 2012; while it didn’t have the same impact as Easter Parade, its haunting prose are still stuck in my mind.)

Yates has an extraordinary talent of unveiling the difficulties of domestic existence. Much like Edward St Aubyn (or perhaps I should say Aubyn is much like Yates) his stories creep up on you, beginning with seeming innocence before challenging the way you previously thought about the world, or environment you are reading – there is stark realism in the candour of Yates’ prose.

A Good School by Richard YatesWilliam Grove is a nervous teenager trying to fit in at his new boarding school. Jack Draper is a teacher whose wife is cheating on him with one of his colleagues. Edith Stone is the daughter of the English master who falls in love with the most popular boy in school. Their stories twine together in the claustrophobic confines of the small community of Dorset Academy. And them comes Pearl Harbor and suddenly they are faced with larger issues than the day-to-day problems and politics of school life. Synopsis from GoodReads.

A Good School is a story of adolescence, boarding school life and WWII. Of the struggle to be accepted by your peers, to be liked and do well at school; all the while knowing by the time you graduate you will be called into action, and possibly die. This is a book that brought home how hard it can be growing up. I find it easy now to dismiss teenage worries, knowing that adult ones are far weightier. I forget that, at the time, a social calamity was equally as distressing as money worries are for me now. These sheltered boarding school boys are so unprepared for the world, for life, and then they are shoved into a war – it seems so unfair.

Additionally, A Good School, has solidified my dislike of boarding schools. It feels as if there is such a rare chance that your child will neither be bullied or the bully – I can’t control my fear of the pain they may go through. There are two particularly disgusting scenes in the book, both of the same nature, where an unpopular boy is stripped naked, pinned down and wanked off. It being an all boys school, the idea being that if you are gay you will ejaculate, and if you’re lucky someone will stop the madness.

The notion that to be gay is to be a social pariah, or that this is an okay tactic to pull on a fellow student is disgusting. Not having attended a boarding school, or been a boy, I can’t digest this adolescent violation as being ‘part of growing up’. There is no escape from unpopularity at boarding school, no escape from the scrutiny and potential small mindedness of your peers. (However, I will concede that not all boarding schools will have been, or are, like this – some people do enjoy the experience.) Eventually these boys graduate, no serious damage done and it makes you marvel at their ability to compartmentalise school life as ‘just what happens’, that shapes you for life. However, I suppose that is what we all do when we hate school, because the alternatives aren’t all that appealing.

Read this book, this is all.

11 thoughts on “Review: A Good School by Richard Yates

  1. I read Easter Parade a couple of years ago and while I thought it was beautifully written and definitely thought provoking, it was so very upsetting, haunting and depressing that I still haven’t found the strength to read more Yates. Having read this review, I’m not sure if I’m ready yet.


    1. I wish I could tell you these were happy books to get you reading Yates again, but alas, he is a bit of a downer – amazing – but a downer.

      Honestly though, if you get a moment, do read this book. Maybe line up a comedy to read after, to cheer you up.


  2. I scrunched up my face very much at the paragraph about the boarding schools. That sounds very yucky to read about. I agree with you completely that it’s not just “part of growing up” — messes you up, I think, not builds character. Imagine if any adult were being subject to daily physical, emotional, and mental torture like that! Any adult would just quit their job, but kids in school just have to hang with it.

    (Rant over! I just feel strongly about it.)


  3. God, I’m so glad I never had to go to boarding school! (I’ve always had a terrible fear of this sort of environment for the reasons you bring out in your review.) I think I will make this my next Yates, particularly as it sounds a little different to the others I’ve read so far. it brings to mind a book I read last year, Agostino by Alberto Moravia, which features a young boy on the cusp of adolescence. It’s a story of sexual awakening and the loss of innocence, so it’s a little different to the Yates, but something about your review reminded me of it. An excellent little book, highly recommended.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.