BOOK REVIEW: The Divines by Ellie Eaton

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4/5 stars

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about the effects of confinement lately, and again I find myself returning to the British boarding school book trope–there’s something weirdly cozy about it. But The Divines looks not just at the concept of the institution, but the lingering trauma it can impose.

Josephine is a student at St John the Divine in the 1990s, an impossibly posh and privileged student among a working-class Home Counties village, with a contentious town-and-gown relationship. The all-girls school is packed full of strange traditions and schoolgirl antics, and Josephine mostly just shuffles through her days at Divine while attempting to live up to her mother’s memories of the school. We find out early on that Josephine left the school at sixteen, and something sinister happened to Geraldine, another student at the school.

We then jump to twenty years in the future, when Josephine is a married mother and attempting to work her way through the past. It is a fascinating play with time and place, comparing and contrasting Josephine’s past in England and her present in Los Angeles with her artist husband. I tend to be a bit of sucker for time-jump narratives, and this was a particularly standout one. Eaton’s debut is intoxicating and captures the cultural divide between Divine and the local residents in such a fantastic way through Josephine’s friendship with Lauren, a local girl who leads her down a chaotic path. It was just as impactful as the explorations of postpartum depression and aging in the second timeline. The final twist had me gasping out loud and eager to read late into the night–always a sign of a good read.

After the disappointment of Madam, this was a far superior take on the boarding school novel, and one I will probably furiously push on people this year.

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www.blackwells.co.uk

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