Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Jack Sheffield – Dear Teacher - Book Review

This book is twee. Being twee is not necessarily a negative. There is awesome twee – UK television has thrived on it for aeons, and of course the printed word either inspired these excellent twee shows, or spun off them. The book under review is from a sub-genre, village twee. Let’s think about some classic Brit shows, based on village life, and the iconic characters that are indelibly linked to these timeless series. We’ve had village vet (‘All Creatures Great and Small’), village priest (‘Ballykissangel’), village plod (‘Heartbeat’, ‘Hamish Macbeth’), and village doctor (‘Dr Findlay’s Casebook’, ‘Doc Martin’). We’ll never forget Heartbeat’s Greengrass, nor BallyK’s Assumpta.  Weren’t we shocked when she died? Thinking back on her gave me a case of the ‘whatever happened tos’ so, checking on Wikipedia, Dervla Kirwan is still around and in work, currently starring in ‘Blackout’ on SBS. It seemed back when BallyK was on air that, like the priest, every red blooded non-bogan Aussie male, including this one, had the hots for Assunpta. Of course, a show’s tweeness is ratcheted up if a very cute doggie appears – cite Hamish’s Scottie, and we should ponder where would Sunday nights on the ABC be without the twee genre?

To the best of my knowledge no English show of classic village twee has centred around a teacher. Jack Sheffield obviously felt there was an opening in the market and in he strode, pen in hand.
I’d vaguely heard of his series of tomes focused on the principal of a small north of England hamlet school, so when one came up cheap on eBay, I went for it.

Now there is twee and then there is twee, and this book more than borders on the latter. I thought that it would appeal to me more than it did being as Jack, the main character, and I were similar vocationally – but its bad tweeness made it a struggle. The only reason I persevered was to discover which of the two deliciously delectable sisters, Beth or Laura, our hero would end up with. Reaching the end, had I not been a mile high above Bass Strait, I would have chucked the book across a room in disgust. Of course it ended in a cliffhanger, didn’t it, for our author had a sequel (‘Village Teacher’) to sell, didn’t he? I won’t be hunting it down. Oh deary me, in the novel the Yorkshire stereotypes were out in full force, mangling the language to the point of utter exhaustion as Sheffield ramped up his charm assault. Likewise, the expected student howlers were so predictable and forced it drove me to distraction – but I gritted my teeth and plodded on. And what a ‘puddin’ Jack was – totally gormless when it came to his two lovelies. Made you feel why would they bother, unless he was exceptional in areas the book didn’t go into.

Of course Australia has not been without its own example of village twee, the standout being, without doubt, the glorious ‘Sea Change’. In this we had David Wenham’s Diver Dan and William McInnes’ Max Conners, as love interests for Sigrid Thornton’s Laura, and gormless men they weren’t. They were manly men to induce lust, but of course with a sensitive side that needed mothering as well. Half the thinking female population of Oz fell in love with Diver, the other half Max. Some of them even took off from city life to find their own Pearl Bay manly man, along the East Coast, while such places still existed, and thus created a social phenomenon – such is the potential power of village twee.

Done well, good village twee is priceless, but this hackneyed effort, with its constant cultural referencing, just gave this reader the irrits.

And as for village twee made in heaven, how about we get Diver Dan and Assumpta together? Now wouldn’t that be something!