The Furies by Natalie Haynes

the-furiesAt first I was confused by The Furies because it is called The Amber Fury in the UK, but in either case it is a great debut for Natalie Haynes, garnering her a nomination for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award. The Furies is set in Edinburgh, at a school referred to as The Unit, for teens at risk. Alex finds herself teaching drama-therapy after the untimely death of her fiance. The combination of Alex’s troubles and the troubled teens leads to another tragedy. And that is where I will leave you.

The Furies has been compared to The Secret History by Donna TarrtNice try, but it isn’t quite a Secret History. It is, however, about a teacher who introduces a group of students to Greek tragedies. Reading plays like Antigone and Oedipus is called into question when a tragedy occurs. Alex taught them how relevant these works were to their lives, but were they a little too relevant?

I love novels set in places that I know well. For me reading The Furies had the added bonus of not only being set in the city in which I live, but also incorporating places I see and visit on a regular basis. I could picture everything Alex describes in minute detail, right down to the change rooms at the Commonwealth Pool, where I also swim.

Who would like this book? Every time I read something by a new, young British writer I am absolutely floored. The Furies is no different. It made me re-evaluate the Greek tragedies I dreaded in university and made me like them. It also exposed the grittier side of life in Britain. In this way it reminded me of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (my review) and the works of Lisa O’Donnell. And it has lead me to ponder whether the defining feature of Scottish literature is its grittiness, its look at the lower strata of society. It seems that all my favorite, contemporary Scottish writers deal with children in care and at risk.

I received a copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher via NetGalley.

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7 Comments

  1. Book sounds really interesting so will look out for this. I’m more Glasgow, but I got to know Edinburgh better when I was a student – alas that was so long ago most of what I knew will have gone ( except for the pubs of course!) You make really telling point about grittiness in Scottish literature. I’d not thought about it before but as I reflect on all the Scottish writers I like, whether contemporary or otherwise their books are almost always what you’d call gritty! It’s probably due in part to our Celtic roots and in part to our weather!

  2. I loved The Amber Furies as well (I bought a copy after seeing Natalie at The Brighton Festival in May). I’ve never been to Edinburgh (or Scotland) and this made me want to head up there and visit the locations in the novel. It was such a clever story, I didn’t see the ending coming at all, and all along it was pointed out to me. It also made me want to start reading Greek Tragedies.

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