It is some years since I first read ‘More Lives than One‘ (it was published in 1998). Although I wouldn’t have said at the time that it was ‘brilliant’, many of the scenes created in the novel have been replayed often in my mind. Echoes of Libby Purves‘ sensitive exploration of a highly emotive issue, reverberate loudly when the matter arises on TV and in the papers, as it often does. This seemingly cosy little novel packs quite a powerful punch.
Kit Milcourt is a Bear Grylls type; a banker but also scuba-diver and climber. Whilst teaching a group of divers in Egypt, he meets and later marries Anna. Kit changes career and the couple secure jobs at the same secondary school. Kit teaches English to Year 7’s and there is more than a little of the John Keating (Dead Poets Society) about his attitudes and philosophy. He loves children, describes each as an individual puzzle which he tries to unlock, by opening their hearts and minds to culture and art. Molly, his departmental colleague, despairs of his complete disregard for the set curriculum and of his unorthodox teaching methods. When Molly volunteers at the last minute to accompany Kit and fifteen students on a trip to Venice, it is obvious that things are unlikely to run entirely smoothly. But a pupil’s crush on the charismatic Mr Milcourt unleashes a train of events which has consequences for everyone involved, including Anna.
Libby Purves is a journalist and broadcaster and I know from having read an interview with her where she discusses ‘More Lives Than One‘, that she did research the hidden aspects of Kit’s character very thoroughly. Her measured tone gives a thoughtful counter-balance to the sensationalist headlines which usually accompany the real-life versions of stories like Kit and Anna’s. Having been drawn into their world, it was almost impossible not to feel sympathy for them both.
I recommend this book if you have not already come across it. It is revealing and thought-provoking in many more ways than one.