Paperback review: The Small Hours, By Susie Boyt

Lessons for life at the nursery school of joy

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The Independent Culture

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.