A pupil and a teacher. Is it ever right to break the rules?
Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley.
After all, he was her first love when she was fifteen years old. But he was also her school maths teacher, and their forbidden affair ended in scandal with his arrest and imprisonment.
Now, seventeen years later, Matthew returns to Norfolk, with a new identity and a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter, who know nothing of what happened before. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them together.
With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present?
I was keen to read this as not only has it received good reviews but it also dealt with a topic that has been in the media with a highly publicised case of a teacher running abroad with a pupil. What I’d hoped to read was a story that created a personal depiction of such a relationship, that put it into context and explored the thoughts, feelings and the moral reasonings behind the actions. This is because what we tend to read in the papers are the more salacious aspects and not the personal stories, which while they cannot alter the legal situation, add light and shade to the story.
The story looks at what happens when Matthew a teacher (now known as Will) and Jess, his former pupil meet, 17 years after their original relationship was discovered and he has spent time in prison for the offence. At the time of their original affair he was 23 and she 15. Now Jess has a boyfriend and a growing business, while Will/Matthew has a partner and child who know nothing about his past, hence the name change.
The story is told via the alternating points of view of Matthew and Jess, with the narrative of the past affair being largely told by Matthew, which leads us at times to question his truth and objectivity, especially in the face of later revelations. At times I found the story thought provoking and interesting. While Jess was a vulnerable teenager, she was not far off 16 and did make some of the running, and if it was a relationship based on love and not lust, could it be legally wrong, but morally not so cut and dried.
Personally I had difficulty in understanding what the 25 year old Matthew saw in a 15 year old Jess, to make it a love story, rather than one of underage lust with all the taboo excitement it elicited. At the time of the affair one could almost be mistaken in thinking that Matthew was the teenager as he showed little in the way of mature adult responsibility and seemed to give in very easily. While that situation was almost reversed when the two met again in later life and Jess seemed to revert back to a naive teenager, happy to do Matthew/Will’s bidding and constantly absolving him of any wrongdoing.
Neither party had little sympathy from me, in the way they behaved considering they both had partners and responsibilities which they cast aside at every available opportunity with the same gay abandon as their clothes. However, that said as their partners and friends were not particularly likeable either it was at times hard to really care. I also found their conversations oddly light, flirtatious and lacking in the depth, that I would expect from a couple that had been involved in a meaningful albeit short-lived relationship.
I acknowledge I’m at odds with the bulk of the reviewers, who saw this as an all time love that deserved a happy ending, but I found their behaviour exceedingly frustrating and their ambivalence just went on for too long. However if it was the author’s intention, to create a work that divided views and wasn’t clear cut, maybe my three stars should be a five.
I received a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.