"Sweets, cake, fruit and sundry comforts were stored in the bleak and forbidding tuck box shed. Five hundred boxes lined the shelves. Most were tough as teak, with weighty padlocks, but some- on lower shelves, in easy reach - were pale and new and quite defenseless. By order, the shed doubled as storage for shoe polish kit and the air was tick with Cherry Blossom wax. The wax was a great leveller. Every item in the boxes was scented with it, and the duckboard floor was black and treacherous from the buffing of a thousand toecaps.
This was an emotive place. Within the boxes were those things that had been packed by mothers, and here and there, by fathers too. Special things parents had wrapped with their own hands."
Sex is one of the main themes of this story and one that probably attracts a response from the reader in just the first couple of chapters. But strange as it might sound you quickly forget about that as sex is just one of the weapons used in a power struggle that is raging across various parts of life at Coxcomb Hall.
On the one hand there is a fight between the head and financial reality, another between one teacher and the colleagues who are having an affair with his wife and then the struggles of the boys themselves.
The setting is a public school, a very minor one, in the late 1960s that is corrupt and rotten but stumbling on with its assembled collection of alcoholic and socially isolated staff and boys who have been largely dumped by their parents and forgotten. Into this world steps Mrs White, a young woman married to the aged Dr White, and her determination to escape from her current predicament by accruing as much money as possible. She does that by granting sexual favors to the boys as well as charging for sex from two of the staff.
Her plan seems to be going well but she comes up against a puritan teacher named Jackson as well as the head boy Ossaff who rules by fear. The combination of goodness and pure darkness combine to undo Mrs White's ambitions.
But across the school the pressures of money, hate and jealousy are heading into an inevitable collision that will mean the end for Coxcomb and the power structures that have existed for years.
There are so many echoes in this book not just of other titles but also films. If obviously comes to mind but at points you find yourself thinking of the strange world of Gormenghast as the odd characters of the school are described and placed into a context where they are very much influenced by their buildings.
You keep reading because although the characters are generally nasty, the http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifsex brutal and manipulative or illegal there is a wish to see the end and work out where liberation is coming from. The way Taylor gets you there is worth waiting for.
It is also worth mentioning that the first few chapters can be enjoyed via Facebook.