Ruth Thomas’ work has been highly acclaimed by authors such as Shena Mackay, and her third novel, The Home Corner, has received favourable reviews. The story is set in an unnamed city in Scotland in the mid-1990s, and focuses upon nineteen-year-old Luisa McKenzie, who finds herself unexpectedly and uncomfortably working as a teaching assistant at a school named St Luke’s – ‘a role she never envisaged or wanted’ – as a result of failing her Scottish Highers.
Luisa’s friends have ‘all left town and she spends her days perched in the classroom’s Home Corner, answering questions about God and the colour of the sky’. She is frank and honest about the situation in which she finds herself: ‘I was stuck, I suppose; I was fixed, and I didn’t know how to alter things… I hadn’t arrived at the start of the school year; I’d been offered the job late in the autumn, a replacement for Miss Ford, who had not, apparently, quite cut the mustard. Susan Ford was a kind of ghost at St Luke’s, an absence, a person whose spectral shoes I was filling’.
Luisa’s first person narrative voice is earnest and well pitched, to the point that she feels realistic. She is also a darkly funny protagonist. We learn a lot about her as the novel goes on, and she becomes a fully-rounded character rather quickly. Thomas tells us how her dreams to go to University and study Geography have been dashed, and the slippery path which ultimately led to an entirely different life for her: ‘And I tried not to mind that I was, instead, sitting in a Portakabin in my home town, surrounded by five-year-olds’. Thomas perfectly demonstrates the ways in which Luisa relates to others; her peers, her elders, and the young children in her care at school. Each and every character – particularly true with regard to the children in Luisa’s class – is captured effortlessly.
Thomas writes so well, and I am surprised that she is not a more well-known author, for she certainly deserves to be. The Home Corner is a compelling novel, which charts the struggle of one young woman whose every dream has been destroyed, and one can only hope that it does not pass under the radar, as the author’s other books seem largely to have done.