Published: 15/07/2018
ISBN: 9781789013504
Format: Paperback

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by John Ellison

Fragments’ is historical fiction – or faction. It is the supposed work of a narrator, Clive Bates, who looks back more than four decades from the vantage-point of austerity-era-starting 2010 to the autumn and winter of 1968-9. He had then, post-university, taught law at a real-life further education establishment in east London – East Ham Technical College. Recalled from that time, memory stimulated by impulse-reading his long-shut contemporaneous journal, are ‘a collection of stories… fragments of lives…’

While Clive Bates shares with the author a teaching history at the college, he and his alleged memoir are imagination’s creatures.

If the buildings and administrative arrangements at the college are fact-based, the characters and their doings are inventions, though not completely in the case of three real-life personages: international law academic Professor Schwarzenberger, communist composer Alan Bush, and a London squatters’ movement leader, Ron Bailey.

Centre-stage, though, is an eclectic mix of teachers, mostly male, in the Business and General Studies Department. Conspicuous amongst these for his eloquence and the drama of his life (coping with ‘a mad wife’ and young child) is Irishman Jack O’Neill, who teaches English. ‘The concepts of business and commerce snap at you like alligators from a swamp,’ he pontificates.

Another English teacher exhibits snobbery and a bow tie, a commercial subjects man has a distinct down on women, while a teacher of government when pressed can breathe socialist fire - ‘This college is full of fascists!’

Political polarisation prevails as the action advances, while the narrator, who is left-leaning but not a campaigner, and likes wearing suits, is not averse to acquiring a female partner. The dimensions of in-house crises grow as spring approaches.

In the shadows are Enoch Powell’s speeches, Russia’s Czechoslovakia invasion, an anti-Vietnam war march, the US presidential election…

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