The Honours Board

Pamela Hansford Johnson

15 March 2012
320 pages


The Honours Board is set in an English Preparatory School for boys whose parents intend them later to serve a four to five year stretch at a traditional English Public School. But this brilliant novel is only incidentally about the boys at Downs Park. Its major concern is with the men and women who form the teaching staff – a small world as inward-looking as a ‘family’ of hippies – and whose lives are intertwined not only with each other’s but with the moral and emotional tendrils, grown sturdy and gnarled over the years, of this admirably conducted though less than typical bastion of the English middle classes.

Downs Park is admirably conducted, but under the regime of its sympathetic, intelligent, headmaster-owner, it loses more money than it makes – nor does the honours board record scholarships to the great public schools. It is, in fact, ripe for take-over, and the headmaster knows it. The second master, self-regarding, plausibly ambitious, rich and sexually athletic, knows it too. As this quiet but desperate struggle reaches a critical stage, the whole structure of the group is threatened and everyone is forced to look beyond the comforting bars of his cage.

In Pamela Hansford Johnson’s masterly hands, this novel has the force of life itself.