Paperback review: The Small Hours, By Susie Boyt

Lessons for life at the nursery school of joy

Boyt’s Jamesian prose style is perfectly suited to this darkly comic tale of Harriet Mansfield, the disturbed young woman who, as a kind of reparation for her own childhood dominated by an abusive mother, opens a nursery school where children will only ever experience joy.

It reflects, in its paraphrases and sub-clauses, Harriet’s own self-doubt and suspicion of the world. But Boyt also satirises the contradictory figure of the middle-class, wealthy parent, caught between being too distant and being too needy. Harriet has been called “lovable” but she’s more dangerous than that, and this ambiguity is thoroughly welcome at a time when literary heroines are expected to be more sweet than sour.

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