A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris | Book Review | #ANarrowDoor

Now I’m in charge, the gates are my gates. The rules are my rules.

It’s an incendiary moment for St Oswald’s school. For the first time in its history, a headmistress is in power, the gates opening to girls.

Rebecca Buckfast has spilled blood to reach this position. Barely forty, she is just starting to reap the harvest of her ambition. As the new regime takes on the old guard, the ground shifts. And with it, the remains of a body are discovered.

But Rebecca is here to make her mark. She’ll bury the past so deep it will evade even her own memory, just like she has done before. After all…

You can’t keep a good woman down.

Publisher: Orion
Format: Ebook, Audio, Hardback (4 August 2021)
Pages: 448
Source: Copy received for review


I’d like to make a small personal announcement first if I may – this is my 1000th post since starting my blog in August 2013. I’m not as prolific a poster as some so it has taken a while to get there, but it does seem rather a momentous milestone – to me anyway! Now on to the book! 😊

My thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the invitation and to the publisher for the review copy. When I accepted this for review, I had no idea that A Narrow Door was the third book in the Malbry series featuring St Oswalds, following on from Gentleman and Players and A Different Class. This actually didn’t matter that I hadn’t read either of the previous books, I quite happily read this as a standalone.

Rebecca Price was 5 years old when her elder brother Conrad went missing on her birthday. Her life changed from that day – her parents never got over his disappearance and emotionally they disappeared from her life too.

Fast forward over 30 years and Rebecca Buckfast is the New new head of St Oswalds Academy, a title that has never been given to a woman in five hundred years. It used to be a Grammar School for Boys but things have changed. Following a scandal at St Oswalds and a merger, girls are now admitted into its hallowed halls. Rebecca is determined to do things her way. To dispense with the patriarchy of the old guard that she herself has been subject to whilst a teacher at nearby King Henry’s Grammar School and she has a tale to tell.

Roy Straightly, a Classics master, is one of the old guard. Having been at St Oswalds for decades, he thinks he knows its secrets and those of his friends however what he is about to learn will throw all that into disarray and doubt. And it begins with the discovery of a body within the grounds of St Oswalds.

The story goes back and forth between the present time of 2006 at St Oswalds and Rebecca’s time as a supply teacher at King Henry’s in 1989. Rebecca has her demons from childhood and as she recounts her terrors which blighted her life it becomes clear that her brother Conrad was not the saint his parents believed him to be but was it just innocent childhood teasing or something more sinister.

Told from the perspectives of Rebecca and Straightly, this was a book that required concentration, the back and forth between timelines and characters wasn’t an issue, these are clearly defined but the plot and backstory is a complex one and there are many characters which need to be remembered from both timelines.

Rebecca has overcome so many hurdles in her career and indeed in her life generally. From early on at King Henry’s she was humiliated and had to fight sexism and prejudice. No concessions were made for female staff. Instead of being beaten by the system, she has risen up and played her own game. She is a strong woman; selfish and manipulative and will do anything to protect her legacy and her life.

A Narrow Door is a well plotted and clever story of ambition, murder and coming to terms with the past. I will admit that the pace did slow a little in the middle but then picked up and the ever twisting turns were a surprising delight. With superb characterisation, a story full of tension and unease, this is definitely recommended.


Joanne Harris is an Anglo-French author, whose books include fourteen novels, two cookbooks and many short stories. Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy. In 2000, her 1999 novel Chocolat was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen.


2 thoughts on “A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris | Book Review | #ANarrowDoor”

  • I’ve read the other two, as well as another book of hers that takes place in Malbry but not at the school (blueeyedboy), so I can hardly wait to read this one. It is winging its way to me as I write!!!!

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