Title: A Blindfellows Chronicle
Author: Auriel Roe
Publication Date: July 20, 2017
Genre: General Adult Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
I was recently sent A Blindfellows Chronicle by the author, Auriel Roe in exchange for an honest review.
Dear fellow Babblers,
This is a novel, collection of short stories, sensual expression of intimate thoughts. I was left feeling satisfied and ready for more from the author. It’s not a book I would ever generally pick up, but upon meeting the author and chatting with her I became intrigued. What could such a quirky and kind person write? Despite the somewhat dense and scattered events and writing style of A Blindfellows Chronicle this book is the kind that takes you into the author’s imagination and confuses your perception between fiction and reality. In a narrative period of thirty years Roe visits many characters, personalities, and worlds, all which seem incongruent but naturally seem to fuse together with a twist of heartfelt emotion by the last page.
A Blindefellows Chronicle is a comic novel, comprising thirteen interconnected stories that take place over forty years. Its setting is Blindefellows, a second rate public school in the West Country, founded as a charity school for poor, blind boys, but long since converted into an ‘elite’ educational institution for anyone who can pay.
The novel runs chronologically from 1974 to 2014. In the first story ‘The Fair Filles of France’ we see the arrival of Sedgewick who starts his first teaching job at Blindefellows after an unsuccessful stint in shoe sales. Japes, who has been at Blindefellows for a few years following a career in the Royal Engineers, senses the younger man’s inexperience and determines to help remedy it by taking him on the school’s annual World Wars trip to France. Once they arrive in Bayeux, it quickly becomes apparent that the trip is a means for Japes to cavort with one of his many girlfriends.
Throughout the novel, Japes, an older chap, regularly attempts to imbue the younger Sedgewick with his worldly experience and takes it upon himself to introduce Sedgewick to womankind as a means of giving the naïve fellow some sort of fulfilling experience in life. He’s repeatedly thwarted by the timorous Sedgewick, however, who throws his energies into his love of History as a means of sating his rather watery appetite. An unlikely hero through and through, Sedgewick repeatedly finds himself driven to save the day, such as in the next story, ‘The Guardians of The Flock’ where Sedgewick tries to diffuse a siege and is himself taken hostage.
In ‘Of Art and Cheese’, out of necessity, Sedgewick thrusts himself into the role of entrepreneur. Blindefellows’ loathsome Librarian, Francis Fairchild, proposes that the strapped for cash school do away with The Flock, the school’s mascot. Sedgewick comes up with a plan to make them pay their way by establishing a creamery which he will attempt to run, much to the ridicule of the others who hear he needs to read a book on dairy farming to learn how to milk a teat.
In the fourth story it is 1984, the year of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the school, and English master, Tony Tree, bombastic descendant of Beerbohm Tree, has penned ‘A Blindefellows Chronicle’, a multi-media extravaganza to mark the great day, with Sedgewick dubiously in charge on the technical front. Meanwhile, Japes, who has been given responsibility for the social side of the event to distract him from his mid-life crisis, gets entangled in twin flings with the caterer and decorator he has hired, whom he unsuccessfully tries to keep out of sight of one another.
Later, Sedgewick finds himself in a predicament after inadvertently sputtering what is taken to be a proposal by the school’s dowdy receptionist, Yvonne. Advised by Japes to wriggle out of it, Sedgewick tries to pluck up the courage to do the deed. Her ramshackle family farm and her frightening father urge him on until he is touched by the way Yvonne tends to an abused donkey. From that point, he finds himself unable to act on his cold feet and marriage is on the cards.
Other members of the school’s bachelor community feature in the form of Toby and Les, Japes’ colleagues in the Science department. In ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’, Japes and Toby attempt to cure Les, their lab technician, of his imaginary allergies with near disastrous consequences. ‘Toby and the Tree People’ is the story that follows, set in 1989, the year of the White Paper, ‘Roads for Prosperity’. Nature-loving Toby attempts to block the razing of a favourite patch of woodland by inhabiting a tree. The Tree People of the title are a gaggle of itinerant protesters who turn up to help him, but who prove exceedingly trying.
Bachelorettes are key elements too with the landmark arrival of the first female Head of Department half way through the novel in 1994 in “The Fraulein from Brazil”. Matron Ridgeway, Japes’ female equivalent in philandering, is the clear-headed Tiresias of the novel who has to go through her own baptism of fire in chapter two when she starts work at the male-dominated Blindefellows as the school nurse.
A Blindfellows Chronicle revolves around the lives of a very particular society at a private school where students smoke as they wish, flirt with waitresses with little regard for the opinions of their elders, and teachers have problems which multiply, but somehow later become nuanced with time.
The story starts out on a very light note with a young man, Sedgewick, moving into a boarding school as a new teacher, with the help of his parents, of course. He’s nervous, uptight, and acts according to rules, not heart. Years pass slowly, the plot, or plots, unfold abruptly, and characters develop through the development of those about them.
With the beginning portion of the book taking place in France, only to proceed at the same time in a comic yet lackadaisical tone, my interest was more enveloped in the writing and narrative techniques the author used rather than the story itself. I’m not much of a “war” story reader, and many portions of the story contained many allusions to to battles and “soldier life.” In these moments, I found myself paying more attention to the fluidity of the author’s words and dialogue rather than what was really going on.
This is a light read that is not exactly easy to comprehend, but by the end comes together beautifully, leaving you with a long-lasting smile.
I cannot focus on any one portion of this book that I liked because each and every chapter seemed to be a separate story in and of itself but nonetheless had a reminiscent qualities of all which proceeded it. Each story was comic with unique characters, presenting the diversity of the mind according to the lives which befall one another. I was especially charmed by the young boys in the boarding school: rebellious but also resourceful in their pursuit of food and better living conditions.
There is really no protagonist or antagonist here. Each character battles their own demons and overcomes different sorts of obstacles, completely separating on personality from another. Lives, events, and years are woven together but initially seem obscure and without a purpose. This is really one of those reads where you have to pause and reflect on how one event is crucial to the fall of another. Sure, this is a somewhat simple read, but also rather tricky as there is not clear conflict or plot. The years pass as the characters come and go, and develop by the effects they experience from conflicts.
The characters appear and reappear across the chapters – all which lead back to similar, but not the same story. Everything is very nuanced and just delightful to traverse. Roe’s writing is warm and without quickness, which I really loved. Her descriptions of the boarding school and the young boys is vivid and real. I felt like I was watching from behind a lens into a different reality. The characters, conflicted and troublesome in the early chapters of the book are completely transformed and some even seem to be completely different individuals. This book really shows what the effect that time has on the choices, thoughts, and emotions of a person. The way we live, what we go through, and how we cope with the passage of the years changes who we are no matter what. We have little say in the matter because it is almost as grounded permanent as destiny itself. The author demonstrated this clearly not through wordy and overly complicated word choice but through humorous analogues and simply entertaining.illustrations of life as it is, in all its drama, love, and grief. All the characters, at one time or another in this thirty-year period must come to terms with what the passage of time means for them and their relationships with themselves and the rest of the world.
A Blindfellows Chronicle is one of the most original and sweeping books I’ve read in a long, long time. It was not necessarily a page-turner that kept me completely absorbed – there were definitely times when I found myself skipping a few pages without feeling entirely lost. It’s simple but sometimes simplicity is the best means of creating art. It’s long but feels short. It’s dense but feels light. It’s separated yet integrated. It’s been a pleasure to read and review this book for the author and I now look forward to a great much more of Roe’s entrancing imagination.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)