I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
After losing her fiancé in a shocking tragedy, Alex Morris moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Formerly an actress, Alex accepts a job teaching drama therapy at a school commonly referred to as “The Unit,” a last-chance learning community for teens expelled from other schools in the city. Her students have troubled pasts and difficult personalities, and Alex is an inexperienced teacher, terrified of what she’s taken on and drowning in grief.
Her most challenging class is an intimidating group of teenagers who have been given up on by everyone before her. But Alex soon discovers that discussing the Greek tragedies opens them up in unexpected ways, and she gradually develops a rapport with them. But are these tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge teaching more than Alex ever intended? And who becomes responsible when these students take the tragedies to heart, and begin interweaving their darker lessons into real life with terrible and irrevocable fury?
Natalie Haynes’ The Furies is a psychologically complex, dark and twisting novel about loss, obsession and the deep tragedies that can connect us to each other even as they blind us to our fate.
This novel contains some of my favorite elements: teaching and mythology. I love that Alex teaches a play that I too have taught. In fact, her discussions of these plays brought up some excellent points that I would “steal” if I were still teaching this level. However, Rankeillor is no normal school. The Unit is designed for the most challenging students in Edinburgh, and the anxiety, the ups and downs, Alex experiences in the classroom seem very realistic. During my first year of teaching, I too was given a less than ideal class. In fact, in one of my morning classes, the majority of my students seemed set on ending my teaching career before it actually had a chance to begin. What Alex feels in the novel, her struggles with these kids, seem genuine and accurate.
Alex’s grief and her confusion over her feelings was another realistic element in the novel. Who hasn’t experienced that inconsolable grief that overwhelms and leaves you confused and angry? I’ve felt her frustration with what to do with her feelings and those “good-natured” but agitating well-wishers. Alex can’t move forward, and she can’t go back. It was gut-wrenching and real.
However, staying on top of this story is a bit challenging. The shifts in time from past and present as well as the exorbitant descriptions of the city and the weather were tiresome. The novel is also a bit slow, especially in the beginning, but the story is unique and presents interesting discussion. This one would make a fantastic reading club choice.