Haven’t seen the movie version yet, but I read a reference to the book in an issue of the New Yorker a few months ago and realized that I should read the book. I requested a copy from the library but it took so long to arrive that I forgot my request until the book arrived last week.
For me it’s an odd little book, very well written, with characters that are all a little lost and confused (as are we all). Jean Brodie is an eccentric character, fully aware that she is out of place but believing that she needs to remain there for the good of her girls. She has a persecution attitude, she feels she needs to be constantly vigilant against threats because she know that the headmistress would like to find a way to force her to leave. At the same time she is also fully unaware of her own faults, the threats she poses to her students, her own immorality (convincing a student to fight for Franco, manipulating a selected student to sleep with a married teacher in her place), her own shortcomings.
But I know little about Catholicism or Calvinism so the author’s comparisons and metaphors (pointed out to me after doing some internet searches) went over my head.
The use of time perspectives, flashing forward and back, is excellent. It serves a purpose, it’s never unclear, it doesn’t detract from the flow of the story, and it allows us to see the circumstances of the principle time frame from a multitude of time perspectives. Normally we can see the story from the perspective of different characters within the story but here we get to see the story from the perspective of those characters and from different time frames which magnifies the depth to which we can view the situations. For me this is one of the most excellent aspects of the book; I can’t think of an example where differing time perspectives are used so well and add so much value to the story.