Books

The Little Village School – Gervase Phinn

A Yorkshire village, everyone knows what goes on in their own lives (obviously) but also that of the other residents and even those in neighbouring villages. When a newcomer arrives they are always going to cause a stir.

In this case the newcomer Elisabeth Devine, with her red shoes with silver heels of all things is going to really cause a stir. Elisabeth is the new headteacher at The Little Village School. She is something a mysterious character, in fact she has some secrets of her own and coming from an inner city school, she assumes that no one is that interested in her or her life.

All she wants to do is the best for the pupils that are in her care. The trouble is the school that she has become head of is facing many problems. The previous headmistress was something of a tartar, who rarely left her office and left the school as soon as the bell went. The deputy head cannot simply control the children in her care and they are not learning anything. There has been a failing inspection report to deal with, the other teachers are on temporary contracts and the parents are taking the pupils out of the school. It seems that Elisabeth has made the wrong move when she came to the school.

However, slowly things start to change, Elisabeth has a determination that none of the other villagers have ever seen before. It has a marked effect on her fellow teachers, especially when she splits up the groups and actually teaches herself. The pupils seem to be gaining in confidence and she knows who needs help, when and how. After school clubs are growing and even the Deputy Head seems to have found a new lease of life and has finally stepped out of the shadow of the previous head teacher and even her own mother.

There are some though who are suspicious and Elisabeth has to deal with some parents who feel that their child is being victimised. A board of governors who are split about the school and a local council and education department who are determined that this little village school will be affected by the cutbacks. The strength of feeling in the village is strong and suddenly the lady who swept in with her red shoes is making an impact that ripples out to many.

This is a wonderful story if you like school tales, it is a wonderful story if you like village tales. It combines the most innocent things that children say, the tragedies that many encounter in life and give it a good dose of true Britishness. Yes it might seem all rose-tinted to many but the humour is so very British and the characters although seem parodies of themselves are no doubt spot on. You have the lady that runs the village store and post office, who of course knows everything that is going on and is not one to gossip. She is trying to palm off the Viennese biscuit selection she has. The caretaker with the perpetual bad back who suddenly has a miraculous recovery when the local doctor says it is time for the operation. The vicar and his wife, two very different people. The local farmer and his rights of way for his herd. And so it goes on.

Gervase Phinn captures the innocence of everything and weaves a really good old fashioned tale, which has tragedy and heartache and made me weep a couple of times, with sheer will and determination that can show you how much one person can improve something and how it can inspire and please so many. Even the characters names reflect the characters themselves. You can imagine what Miss Sowerbutts is like from her name, the images that is conjures up is wonderful.

I look forward to reading the next instalment.

This was my book club choice for October. I already had it on my shelf as I have read many of Gervase Phinn’s autobiographical work and knew what I was getting was going to be good, if not great. It was. I was expecting some familiar jokes I have read before but I could count them on one hand. However, the storyline was good and whilst some may say simple, it is that which makes it a joy to read. 

I loved all the characters, the sour faced old headmistress. The mother of the Deputy Head who was convinced she was going to be placed in a home down to the wonderful shop owner who seemed to be a female version of Arkwright from Open All Hours. More so I enjoyed this book, because my late grandmother is from Yorkshire and I have relatives up there and as the words of Phinn’s novel came alive I could hear the voices so clearly in my head and some of the little sayings were oh so familiar. 

Simply I loved it, can you tell. 

I will let you know what my book club thought about it soon. 

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One thought on “The Little Village School – Gervase Phinn

  1. This sounds delightful. I’ve enjoyed audiobook versions of several of Phinn’s semi-autobiographical tales of his career as a school inspector (I say semi-autobiographical because whilst they are not fiction they are not quite fact either, since he felt obliged to change names and places, and possibly merged some characters and incidents together) and I think I would enjoy this too. I often recall his books when I’m walking in the Dales, particularly if I happen to pass a school.

    One North Yorkshire village I know lost its village school some years ago. Last time I was up there there was a sign outside announcing that the building would be sold by auction. It will probably end up being converted into a home, but at least that means it will be used.

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