Monday, 18 February 2013

The Tragedy Paper - M's review

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
I loved the premise of this novel: an English teacher sets his final year students a project: a Tragedy Paper. But for some students, this takes on a much more sinister meaning.   The first page reads “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Immediately, the novel is filled with the same wondrous coming-of-age atmosphere as Dead Poet’s Society, a 1989 film which I loved - and I think The Tragedy Paper manages to sustain it (see trailer at end of post too).

It’s also a thrilling but thoughtful read: a combination that I like.

An atmosphere of trepidation filled suspense is created from the beginning with Duncan being worried about the treasure he will find in his new senior boarding school room, which room he will get, tackling his English tragedy paper and hoping that nobody will bring up what happened last year.  Added to these worries, there’s a girl.
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
Duncan ends up in a room whose previous resident was an albino called Tim (whose surname is a tragic irony). The narration moves between Duncan and Tim’s points of view and therefore moves back and forth in time too. The Tragedy Paper is a pageturner that is difficult to put down. It uses a similar suspense-building structure to Annabel Pitcher’s Ketchup Clouds. You know something not-so-great has happened. Slowly you begin to learn which characters may have been involved and you start putting together clues about what’s happened. There’s a love triangle of sorts too. And lessons to be learned.

While thrilling and enjoyable overall, for me the novel was a bit anti-climatic. Sometimes, I felt like it tried a little bit too hard.

The novel obviously explores the themes of tragedy (in both a literal and literary sense), but there is also friendship and romance. A highlight for me was that the plot beautifully captures and questions the ways social hierarchies can be created and sustained through cloak-and-dagger traditions.

Publication details: January 2013, Doubleday, London, hardback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

PS. I've included the Random House The Tragedy Paper trailer: I loved it and seeing as I watched it before I read the book, it formed an important part of my reading experience.


  1. I have heard a lot of good buzz about this book and wondered if it would live up to that. Thanks for this more realistic review, though I will probably read it now with slightly lower expectations.

  2. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this, but if it has a Dead Poet's Society vibe about it then maybe I do!


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