If you’re studying this novel as a member of a reading group, here are some resources and questions for discussion that might help you get started. Note: questions can contain spoilers, so please read the book first if you care about that kind of thing…
The title of the book is both a cricket and a class reference. Find out more about the background and meaning of the phrase here.
St Oswald’s is an independent school. Find out more about the private and independent school system here.
The author taught for fifteen years at a boys’ independent school in Yorkshire. Read about the school here.
Straitley is famously fond of Licorice Allsorts. Join him here.
Or try making these quick and easy Licorice Allsorts slices…
Questions for group discussion:
- To what extent is this a story about class, money and privilege?
- To what extent is it a story about gender within a male-dominated social group?
- How does Pinchbeck feel the weight of class and gender in the world of St Oswald’s?
- How does Straitley fit into this world? In what way is he an insider, and in what way is he at the same time a relic of the past?
- In what ways has Straitley hung onto his role at St Oswald’s?
- How does the author depict the march of progress in independent education?
- In what ways could St Oswald’s be said to be a character in its own right? How do you explain the intense loyalty Straitley feels towards the school?
- What do you think of the relationship between Straitley and his Brodie Boys?
- How do you explain the fascination Pinchbeck feels for St Oswald’s? And for Leon?
- In what way could Pinchbeck be considered a victim in this story? And Leon? And Knight? Who bears the ultimate responsibility for what happens to them?
- The Mole at St Oswald’s manages to bring down an ancient institution with very little ammunition. What do you tink the author is saying here about the nature of tradition and the establishment?
- How do you think this story would have played if St Oswald’s had been a mixed-sex school? A state school?
- What’s your personal opinion on the value of private and/or single-sex schools? What’s the argument for keeping this tradition?
- To Straitley, St Oswald’s is more than just a job. Why do you think he is so anxious about his impending retirement? How do you think he would manage without St Oswald’s?
- Why do you think Leon was so shocked to find out Pinchbeck’s identity?
- Did you see the twist coming? To what extent is the author’s misdirection based on society’s assumptions about male and female violence?
- Is Pinchbeck bad from the start? Can any person be said to be inherently evil?
- Straitley becomes quite fond both of Mr Keane and of Miss Dare. Why? What do they have in common? What traits attract Straitley to certain types of people?
- Straitley’s ongoing feud with some of his other colleagues is one of the lighter elements in this book. To what extent do you think the novel is a comedy?
- Chess imagery is used extensively in this book, with alternating narrators. Why do you think the author chose to do this? Looking back, what clues does this method of narration give you?