A teacher who prefers a disciplined approach to educating her young charges learns the value of broadening one’s mind to new approaches in this thought-provoking novel set in 1960s Glasgow.
Emma, 27, is frustrated about the disorganized teaching methods of her peers, but is challenged by headmaster Paul to let the children learn outside of their usual confinement. Paul, married, also has romantic intentions toward Emma. When she rebuffs him, he suggests she take the head teaching job at Strathard, a castle in the Highlands of Scotland, after she hears of the opening.
Emma accepts and is drawn in by Jenny, who runs a community there offering a “synthesis of philosophy, science and religion” designed to raise people’s awareness of diverse beliefs. The story then shifts to Jenny’s point of view and her struggles with Donna, a visiting sister-in-law whose cult-like beliefs are damaging Donna’s children.
The novel’s characters are vividly real in emotion and action and, as in the first book, its imagery is sharp. In addition, a good cadence of authentic dialogue propels the action. The story is at its best when showing through people’s actions the importance of keeping an open mind spiritually and philosophically.
What drags the plot down is the book’s flimsy structure. Although it eventually ties back to details from the author’s first book, Strathard, A Question of Choice, the route to getting Emma connected to this castle community seems forced, particularly when Jenny’s Aunt Sheena, visiting from Canada, just happens to appear at Emma’s house (because she used to live there) and just happens to mention that the Strathard school is looking for a teacher. Another issue is that the text contains numerous editing and spelling mistakes.
Strathard: Channels of Communication offers interesting ideas and becomes absorbing in its later pages. Unfortunately, the novel takes too long gearing up and may lose some readers along the way.
Also available in hardcover.