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Review: The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes

amberWe are just under half way through GCSEs 🙂 They all seem to be OK, apart from the first two, where LD#1 had a heavy cold and went into the RE and then the French Listening exams coughing and having had very little sleep. Luckily, now that we live 2 minutes away from our doctor, it was no trouble to go down and get a note, which will be sent off to the exam board for the 1-2% extra that they might offer her, although for me it wasn’t so much the actual percentages, as making LD feel that she was in control and not disadvantaged in any way.

I’ve had the last couple of evenings off, because it was English Lit on Friday, and that’s the one thing I don’t feel qualified to teach. Also LD has a good English teacher, whom I trust to get her through the exam OK.

On Thursday, I watched a DVD of Persepolis, which is an animated film based on a child/teenager’s experiences of living through the Iranian revolution. It’s a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while because I think I should watch it, which isn’t to say that it wasn’t enjoyable, but its contents were always going to be a bit uncomfortable. LD#2 saw me watching it and I think was attracted by the voice of the little girl and she is going to have the DVD next, although I will tell her to stop watching if she finds it too disturbing. Some parts of it are heartbreaking. It’s a very realistic and spirited portrait of a teenager’s reaction to war and conflict – focussing very much on the longing for a normal life.

After Persepolis, I finished reading What Maisie Knew by Henry James. I’d been interested in reading this since watching the modern day set film a few weeks ago, and thinking that surely James’ original book hadn’t been as saccharine as all that?? I was right – it wasn’t.  The adults were far more awful in the book than they’d dared make them on screen.  It was extraordinary the way James managed to capture the thought processes of a small child, and the way they developed as she grew older, but without resorting to childish language or imagery. It was especially interesting the way he studied the damage that can be done to children through psychological cruelty and neglect, and the way children try to protect themselves from hurt. He took for granted many of the values we count as “modern” developments in the fields of psychology.

I have to admit that I did get quite bored and skipped a lot of the later middle of the book, as it just seemed to be more of the same: self interested adults and progressive realisation of the child.

Not so The Amber Fury, by Natalie Haynes, which I read last night. This is a book I heard about here, so thank you to anyone who has blogged a review of it. It’s an absolutely brilliant book, because on one level, it’s a realistic portrait of a young woman who delivers drama therapy to damaged teenagers in a Pupil Referral Unit, and on another, it ponders deep philosophical questions by using the pupils’ discussion of Greek tragedies, and the parallels with all their lives. It works pretty well on both levels! I can vouch as someone who has worked with teenagers that the book does a great job of picking up the realities of their casual nihilism, as well as turning a brutally honest spotlight on the emotional effects on the teacher – the constant insecurities of whether one is any good at the job or not.

Natalie Haynes really seems to care about getting across what it’s like to be authentically inside the worlds she portrays – whether it’s the world of the deaf, the world of the PRU, the world of theatre. And the ending is, like the rest of the book, beautifully thought out and perfectly apt.  I would thoroughly recommend this book!



  1. Ordered it!

    You should get a commission!

    I read “maisie” many years ago and didn’t finish it–the first H. James I put aside before the end. I found it just too real–almost as if the literature had been removed and it was more a documentary. I had the feeling he knew those people. And so did I, at the time, which made me not want to read about it. Dreadful, what some parents will do to their children, for the mere sake of winning their points.

    Wishing LD#1 great relief when this is all over, and great happiness when the results come back. ❤

  2. Oh, I hate exam season! My heart goes out to LD – tell her to hang in there. This will be the worst half term she’ll ever have but after that, it’s all downhill and by the time she gets to the end of June she’ll be looking forward to the longest ever summer holiday. Good luck to you both – being a Mum isn’t easy at a time like this!

  3. Oooh I love the sound of the Natalie Haynes – I might just have to get a copy of that! I send all my sympathy to you, in the middle of the exam season. My son finished his at the end of last week and he is enjoying the fun bit now, when he is finally free and loving the entertainments on offer. Exams are just a marathon of hoop jumping and need to be kept firmly in perspective. I used to tell my students they went into exams lovely, smart people, and they would emerge from them lovely, smart people, no matter what the marks turned out to be. I’m not sure they believed me though. The pressures on our kids are ridiculous these days!

  4. Hope LD #1 is feeling much better now and that the rest of exam time goes as well as it can. A stressful time, I remember well. Thinking of you all…
    And thank you for reading ‘Maisie’ as I watched the film recently with Aspie D and sort of liked it, but wondered what the book would be like. I did think the same as you that the parents surely had to be worse than portrayed in the film, and you’ve confirmed that, and also that now I don’t want to read the book! But I am intrigued by The Amber Fury 🙂

  5. The Amber Fury sounds like a wonderful book. I love books that borrow elements from mythology. Also, there are very books that, in my opinion, accurately capture what it is to be in your childhood or teenages. If the book does show “the realities of their casual nihilism,” I have to say, I must read it. Lovely review!
    You know, I never knew there was a movie on Persepolis. I have read the graphic novel, though, and it was just like you have described – both spirited and heartbreaking. 🙂

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