A chorus of detail, but it doesn't sing

24th August 2012 at 01:00

It may conceivably be true that everyone has a book in him or her. But it is equally true that, for the vast majority, that is exactly where it should stay.

This is not to say that I object to the fact that Andy Seed has written All Teachers Wise and Wonderful. That would be unfair. What I object to is the fact that he expects other people to read it.

All Teachers Wise and Wonderful is his second memoir of life as a 1980s primary teacher in the Yorkshire Dales. (His first, All Teachers Great and Small, has a better title, albeit one that sounds like a bad headline.)

Here is the problem with the book: nothing particularly interesting happens to Andy Seed. His life is astonishing in its mundanity. And, over 400 increasingly painful pages, he simply describes it.

Half a chapter, for example, is devoted to a classroom project in which children make a model of an Egyptian sarcophagus. Another contains the account of an evening at a pub quiz. At one point he actually describes coming home and finding a blocked drain. I wish I were making this up.

All this might just be acceptable if Seed was a decent writer. He is not. He mangles language repeatedly: "My life was a constant stream of dealing with the repercussions of her misdemeanours," for example. Elsewhere, he misuses "pervading", "wearying", "emanated" and "fermenting". At one point, he mentions a nine-year-old pupil who regularly challenges his blackboard misspellings. I wanted to cheer her.

The dialogue, meanwhile, is clunky and expository: "Oh sorry, I should have said Rawdale, that's the proper name, but we just call it Reddle." Does anyone actually talk like this?

Again, this might just about have been forgivable if the book was peppered with memorable characters. It is not. Seed has no eye at all for a telling feature or an eccentric trait: his book is mostly populated by interchangeable nonentities. The closest he comes to character creation is the depiction of his ancient, temperamental Alfa Romeo Alfasud: by the end of the book, I am disturbingly fond of it.

Interesting things occasionally happen to him. During the sarcophagus-making episode, for example, he almost asphyxiates a child by accident. Such events should be the climax of a chapter: the point to which all other events lead. Instead, they are lost in a storm of pointless detail.

The overall effect is roughly like reading the relentlessly pedestrian diary of someone you have never met. To which the only conceivable response is: why on earth would anyone want to do that?

Review - All Teachers Wise and Wonderful by Andy Seed, Headline, hardback #163;14.99.

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