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Saturday 20 August 2022

‘The Silent Oath’ by Michael L. Lewis

Published by Book Guild Publishing,
28 July 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-91512212-4 (PB)

It is September 1958 and Jonathan Simon contemplates his fourth year at Blackleigh School.  He is about to take his place as one of five prefects in Trafalgar House and wonders how he will cope in his new role.  At seventeen, he is gaining in confidence, but still baulks at the thought of holding a position of authority within the traditional public school.  When he arrives at Blackleigh it isn’t long before his fears are realised.  Trafalgar’s new head prefect, the wealthy and arrogant John Hunter, dominates a group of similarly well-heeled boys from influential families. To make matters worse, Rob Hunter, John’s brother is about to join the school and will be in Jonathon’s dormitory.  Hunter Senior sets the tone for the academic year when he puts pressure on Jonathon to appoint Rob as his deputy.  This kind of corrupt behaviour is familiar to our hero and is encouraged by a school system that allows its prefects to wield considerable amounts of power, ostensibly to teach leadership skills.  School traditions also frown on whistle-blowers, and this puts those who experience bullying behaviour in a double bind, something Jonathan has experienced first-hand.

As the term begins, Mr Temple, the newly appointed headteacher, addresses the school and outlines some major changes he hopes will modernise the facility.  Girls have been admitted for the first time and will study alongside the boys.  Temple also proposes an increase in the number of scholarships available to less advantaged young people.  Finally, he explains that he intends to swell the ranks of overseas students.  These developments are welcomed by Jonathon and his friends Jim Bhasin and Bobby Stuart but anathema to the privileged elite who currently outnumber the more egalitarian scholars. 

John Hunter is particularly scornful of the school’s direction of travel and begins to devise a plot to thwart Mr Temple’s reforms.  He and his cronies begin to blackmail some unfortunate students.  One of the gang’s victims commits suicide, a tragic event that perversely encourages the bullies’ appalling behaviour.  Jonathon is implicated in their vicious game and when he falls for one of the new female students, Jenny Lee, they both find themselves in jeopardy.

The Silent Oath is the fourth in Michael L. Lewis’s Oath series.  As in the earlier novels, the author depicts the ease with which a closed community like Blackleigh School can become a hotbed of racism, misogyny and criminality.  Jonathan Simon must once more dig deep to overcome his natural self-consciousness, as he stands up against those who vehemently oppose the increasing diversity of the school’s population.  The introduction of girls into the school is a great idea, and their presence adds to the complexity of the narrative.  Jenny is an interesting character, lively, amusing and a perfect foil for the thoughtful Jonathon.  More broadly, the book offers a fascinating portrayal of changing attitudes as Britain is about to enter the explosive 1960s.  Tensions and bigotry are palpable as Jonathon and his enlightened friends embrace the progress of British society and this makes for a great read.

Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Michael L. Lewis was born and raised in England. After preparatory school in London, he was educated at Stowe School, Buckingham. Michael says, "My novel takes the reader on a journey through the lives of three dynamic schoolboys between the ages of 13 and 15, and the extraordinary triumphs and tragedies that they experience." This book is the second in a series. Michael now lives in Los Angeles, California, has a law degree, and writes full-time. He was on the Board of Trustees for several schools and has been a member of the same book club for twenty-five years.

Dot Marshall-Gent  worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction. 

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