Don’t Knock The Corners Off was published in 1963 by the fifteen year old Caroline Glyn. The book is about school, but as Glyn was so young when she read it and probably still in school herself – it does not feel nostalgic in any way as school books can. She is not remembering her school days, merely experiencing them.
Though a lot of the basic aspects of the school system have changed since 1963, this book shows that the people who frequent the school at least seem to have remained pretty much the same.
“For months – years – I had looked forward gleefully to consigning to the flames all those stupid children who could never count their pocket money and never stopped quarreling over their marbles.”
The book charts Antonia Bird’s entire time at school, from when she first goes to primary school – aged ten as she’s been home schooled before that – all the way through to her going to art school in Paris. A lot of the more minute aspects of school are mentioned such as giving out fake love notes, and then making fun of people who believe they were genuine, or having best friends who you’re not entirely sure you actually like, but can’t seem to get any other friends so you just accept that you are their best friend. In school, of course, there are also teachers who hate you for apparently no reason, and blame everything on you, As shown by the character Miss Lovely in the book.
“Then we had the nativity play. King, acting Mary, looked suitably saintly, and I saw a satisfied look come over Sir’s face. Then she forgot to look frightened when Tatley appeared, and just looked mildly amused.”
The book was written in 1963 and there is one moment, where with the arrival of an Indian girl at school, the others take to bullying her and calling her racist names, but Antonia – the narrator – stands up for her when it is revealed she can’t get changed for P.E. as it’s against her religion. Antonia tells the class – who are trying to make her change – that there is nothing different about the girl, she just believes in a different religion than the rest of them and they should respect that.
The subject is dropped, and the class does seem to accept it, but as the copy I own is a first edition it would be interesting to see whether this part is dropped or edited in later copies. Though I’m not entirely sure it needs to be as the main character is not racsist towards the girl and sticks up for her, so Antonia Bird at least remains a good role model today.
“‘I suppose you’ve just been taking your eleven-plus. What did you think of it?’ He punched me in the face.”
The central plot of the novel is Antonia trying to get through her school days and remain her, that is not have her corners knocked off and be just a product of school, but to remain a weird imaginative person all her life. Most of this plot happens between the lines rather than being forced on you, which also means you can draw your own conclusions from the book at the end. Each time I read it – this is the third time I’ve read it since I was eight – I seem to draw different conclusions, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it means it’s like a whole new book each time.
“The red brick walls were tiled up and all round the room were these draped figures: Justice, Duty, Charity, Honesty. I didn’t see Mercy.”
One of the reasons I may have identified with Antonia so much when I first read the book, is how bad she is at maths. She is good at almost every other subject, but cannot for the life of her do maths. Each school she goes to, teachers refuse to believe she can be so bad at maths when she is good at every other subject, and instead call her lazy and say she’s not trying in the subject, when of course she is. The teacher’s seem to be angry at her for not being bad at everything, rather than only being bad at one thing.
So it was possible to be top without being dull.”
This is the first time I have read the book without actually being at school myself, and if the book can do anything, it can stop you being nostalgic about your school days as instead you remember all the work you had to do and how there wasn’t even much let-up in playtime as there were constantly places you couldn’t go or weren’t allowed. The book is a good chronicle of school life, and shows you how little has really changed in the day to day aspects of school anyway.