Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire

A thought-provoking and searing first novel. -The Age

Sarah Clark is a smart kid. That’s what we’re told, anyway. By the time she turns fourteen she’s read every one of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, and then the works of Donne, Marlowe, Pope and Marvell. At fourteen she meets the English teacher, Daniel Carr, who will change her life.

“For the entire forty minutes of his first class he spoke about why Yeats was relevant to Australian teenagers in the year 1995. In the second class, Sarah put up her hand to make a comment on something he said about ‘Hamlet’. When he called on her to speak, she started and could not stop. She stayed in the classroom all through lunch, and when she re-emerged into the sunlight and the condescending stares of the schoolyard cliques, she was utterly changed.”

It’s not a huge leap to believe that a meeting of the minds turns to a meeting of the flesh. But their sexual affair is not quite the same as the poetry they’ve discussed- it’s raw, aggressive often brutal. The obvious questions to ask would be- is this abuse? (Clearly he’s breaking the law based on his position and the difference in their ages.) But Sarah has a penchant for this sort of sex, it seems.

And when Carr is forced to choose between Sarah and his wife and children, he chooses the latter- leaving Sarah to drift through the next eight years of her life in a haze of alcohol, drugs, and sex with hundreds of men.

Until Carr re-enters her life.

This is not a love story. Watching Sarah move through her days(and nights) is like peering through the windows of a car wreck. The characters are almost despicable- and so as I was reading, even when things were particularly horrible, I kept thinking -you know what, you guys deserve each other.

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