Now I’m in charge, the gates are my gates. The rules are my rules.
It’s an incendiary moment for St Oswald’s school. For the first time in its history, a headmistress is in power, the gates opening to girls.
Rebecca Buckfast has spilled blood to reach this position. Barely forty, she is just starting to reap the harvest of her ambition. As the new regime takes on the old guard, the ground shifts. And with it, the remains of a body are discovered.
But Rebecca is here to make her mark. She’ll bury the past so deep it will evade even her own memory, just like she has done before. After all…
You can’t keep a good woman down.
Hi and welcome to my review of A Narrow Door!
St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys is no more. Henceforth, this glorious institution shall be known as St Oswald’s Academy, welcome to both boys AND girls under the lead of a female Head. Institutions such as Oswald’s are not meant for women. Institutions such as Oswald’s have been governed and populated by men, little slices of patriarchy. But a woman did get in and now she is starting to make the place her own. She found a narrow door through which she crept, insidiously, cleverly, and now she can’t just walk through the big gates, she blooming owns the big gates, they’re hers, and the rules are hers, and you had better believe things at Oswald’s are about to change.
A Narrow Door alternates between the POV of the new Head, Rebecca Buckfast, and the Latin teacher at St Oswald’s, Roy Straightley. There’s also a dual timeline: in 2006 we see how Rebecca is getting on as Head and how Mr Straightley is dealing with this attack on tradition, while the other timeline takes us back to 1989 through Rebecca telling her story to Mr Straightley: her first real clash with the patriarchy as a young female teacher at an all-male grammar school, her marriage, and all the way back to when she was five years old and her older brother disappeared.
You may have noticed my using the word patriarchy a few times. I don’t think it’s possible to review A Narrow Door without dropping the P-word a couple of times. A Narrow Door is a thriller and a drama but through it all runs a yellow brick road of feminism. At times that made it a rather uncomfortable read for me, because some of Rebecca’s workplace experiences and the patronising manner in which she was treated made some rather ugly memories of mine resurface and I got worked up about them all over again, to the point that I needed to take breaks from reading to allow myself to calm down again.
If there is one thing I can tell you about A Narrow Door, it’s that it kept me on my toes. It holds its cards close to its chest and there are depths hiding beneath the surface and secrets lurking in places I never even thought to look. Just when I thought I had the story figured out, just when I thought I had the characters pegged, it changed directions and I had to conclude I knew nothing. Twisty is a dangerous word to use because this is not some crazy rollercoaster kind of read, yet the story does twist, with all kinds of small reveals that make you look at things in a whole new light.
Despite its raking up some bad memories, I had a great time with A Narrow Door. It’s a crime novel, a psychological thriller, a drama and a mystery all rolled up into one beautifully clever, roaringly angry and mischievously dark book. Recommended.
A Narrow Door is out now in ebook, audiobook and hardcover.
Massive thanks to Alex Layt and Orion for the proof copy and the Allsorts! All opinions are still my own.