Fragments is the supposed work of the narrator, Clive Bates, a retired law teacher, who looks back more than four decades from late 2010, as government austerity begins, to his first post-university teaching post taken up in the autumn of 1968. Deliberating on whether to put words to paper in a memoir, Clive describes the narrative to come – if it does come – as ‘a collection of stories…slices of lives, fragments of lives…’
While Clive shares with the author a teaching history at London’s East Ham Technical College, he and his alleged memoir are children of imagination, functioning in an only too real historical setting, which includes cameo appearances of communist composer, Alan Bush (the subject of a recent biography), and of local squatters’ movement leader, Ron Bailey. But centre-stage are fictional people, an eclectic collection of fellow-teachers, mostly male, in the Business and General Studies Department. Among these are a colourful and chaotic Irishman, an insufferable Oxbridge-educated bow tie-wearer, and a teacher of government who breathes socialist fire when provoked.
Aside from the distinctive but credible cast whom the narrator recalls in evocative detail with the aid of an ancient diary, Fragments registers the endemic sexism and racism of the time, and as the narrative progresses, political polarization prevails. In the shadows as Clive’s life winds on, having acquired a temporary-looking girlfriend, are Enoch Powell’s speeches, Russia’s Czechoslovakia invasion, a big anti-Vietnam war march and the US presidential election. Readers who enjoy unique stories intertwined with history should delight in this cleverly-crafted book that teaches as much as it entertains.