‘Madam’ – Phoebe Wynne

If something sounds too good to be true…it usually is. When Rose is offered a job teaching Classics at the prestigious Caldonbrae Hall she isn’t sure whether she’s qualified for the position. As a single young woman with an ailing mother and a father’s shameful secret she is, albeit unwittingly, proving herself to be the perfect candidate.

Arriving at the school she has many questions, but every attempt to learn more about her new role and the environment she has joined is stone-walled. That should have been her first clue that things weren’t quite what she thought.

When, only a couple of weeks into term, the entire upper sixth are taken to London and the students she does get to teach take more interest in baiting her than learning, that should have set some alarm bells ringing. In fact, from the outset there are so many instances of strange occurrences that anyone with half a brain would now this place is not what it seems. It takes Rose a considerable time to start to question what she’s walked into.

The staff and girls at Caldonbrae are unsettling. The wrongness of the situation is evident from early on, but we don’t find out what is happening until considerably later on. Attempts are made by many to justify the environment…and the classical allusions offer an interesting exploration of the ideas and characters.

There is a rather dramatic near-ending and a small glimmer of hope for Rose. Unfortunately, the detail slipped in at the end implies, quite bleakly, that when such behaviour is institutionalised as it is here, it will be nigh impossible to tackle. That’s depressing.