Monday 8 April 2024

The Four by Ellie Keel #TheFour @ellikeel1 @HQstories #BookReview


We were always The Four. From our very first day at High Realms.

The four scholarship pupils. Outsiders in a world of power and privilege.

It would have made our lives a lot easier if Marta had simply pushed Genevieve out of our bedroom window that day. Certainly, it would have been tragic. She would have died instantly.

But Marta didn’t push her then, or – if you choose to believe me – at any other time. If she had, all of what we went through would not have happened.

I’ve told this story as clearly as I could – as rationally as I’ve been able, in the circumstances, to achieve. I don’t regret what we did. And I would do it all again.

The Four by Ellie Keel is published on 11 April 2024 by HQ. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

The author Daisy Goodwin says about The Four; 'This is The Secret History for millennials'.  I don't tend to read reviews or blurbs before I read a book, as I fear that I may be influenced by what has been said by other readers. I think, if I had read that quote before I picked up the book, I may be put off. I'm certainly not a millennial, and I've not read The Secret History. 

To be honest, the trope/genre of 'Dark Academia' is one that seems to have passed me by!  I Googled to find out which other books were in this category and apart from Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, I haven't read any of them. On further reading about the books they include, I wonder why Joanne Harris' Gentlemen And Players trilogy is not included? 

So, back to The Four. I really struggled with the first fifty pages, the detailed accounts of the bullying behaviour turned my stomach. I read very dark crime fiction easily, but there was something about reading about upper class teenagers doing awful things to their school peers, purely on the grounds of class that I found really distasteful. I hate any bullying, and especially when people are bullied because of their backgrounds. 

However, I got through that, and I settled into the story and once I was in, I didn't want to put the novel down. I loved the first person narration from Rose, I thought it was very cleverly done and totally believed her as a narrator. 

The Four of the title are Rose, Marta, Sami and Lloyd. They are new pupils in the Sixth Form at High Realms. High Realms is one of the most prestigious and expensive schools in the country and these four were chosen as Millennium Scholars, on a scholarship. They are the brightest of pupils from state schools and it is this fact that makes them victims. Whilst they are all bullied and treated badly, by both the other pupils and some of the staff, it is Marta who bears the brunt of the violence and torture. Marta was previously home schooled, this is her first experience of any school. She is exceptionally intelligent and isn't really aware of boundaries, she says what comes into her head. She's small, very slight, vulnerable, but feisty and loyal to those three who are her friends. 

Without detailing the plot and spoiling it for other readers, all I can tell you is that Marta finds herself in very serious trouble and it is the remaining three Millennium Scholars who pull together to help her. They show a loyalty and friendship that is unbreakable, taking risks, getting hurt and risking their futures to protect her. 

I have no idea if this sort of behaviour goes on in public schools, however, looking at some of the 'great and good' in our country and knowing where they were educated, I don't find it difficult to believe that it does. It's shocking and brutal and so very powerful. 

There are quite a few characters to get to know and each and every one of them are brilliantly drawn, the reader may not like their personalities, but they are undoubtedly magically crafted. The author is very clever at exposing the vulnerabilities of her characters, giving the reader an insight into their behaviour, but not defending it at all. My views of some of the main players changed a few times during the reading of the book, it's all a bit twisted and certainly unpredictable. 

With themes of guilt, love, revenge and power, this is a dark and often brutal story, yet it is also beautiful in parts, and heart breaking in others. Ellie Keel's debut is a triumph and she's certainly an author to look out for. Highly recommended. 

Ellie Keel is an award-winning producer and campaigner. She is the Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Playwriting, a literary prize and campaign for gender equality among writers for the stage in the UK and Ireland.

Ellie creates critically-acclaimed, fearlessly imaginative theatre and audio productions with her company EKP, often in partnership with organisations including Audible, the Barbican and Southbank Centre. In 2024, she was the youngest producer ever to win Producer of the Year in The Stage Awards. She is a frequent contributor to masterclasses, panel discussions and the media on theatre and wider cultural topics.

In 2017, Ellie collaborated in the founding of Just Like Us, an award-winning LGBT+ youth charity. She is passionate about issues surrounding social justice, inclusivity and access to art and culture.

Ellie studied German and Italian at Brasenose College, Oxford, spending a year in Berlin and Milan. She now lives in East London and in her spare time enjoys road cycling, fitness, literature and films.

Her debut novel, The Four, is published by HarperCollins in April 2024. Described by Kate Mosse as 'a dark, compelling and beguiling novel of revenge, guilt and love', and by Karin Slaughter as 'an intensely gripping, thrilling and darkly beautiful debut', The Four is about four scholarship pupils at an exclusive boarding school who find themselves bound by a dark secret that could save one of them, or destroy them all.

X @elliekeel1

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