Labour disputes and classroom discussions of Aristotle are not the first subjects which spring to mind when considering what makes a gripping work of fiction. Yet Stephen Grant’s debut novel, A Moment More Sublime, has both in abundance and still remains eloquent, witty and engrossing.
A Moment More Sublime centres on Tom Phelps, a philosophy lecturer and union representative at a sixth form college in London. Tom and his colleagues are forced to protect their jobs through industrial action when the corrupt principal Dickie, with the support of the college governors and his sycophantic management team, decide to make a quarter of the staff redundant in order to modernise the school’s buildings. As a union representative, Tom is forced to fight a drawn out and largely rhetorical battle with management whilst attempting to settle down with his partner Sofia, deal with the attentions of an ardent female student, and sate his passion for tennis.
The novel has been surrounded by controversy, as Grant resigned from his position at Richmond Upon Thames College in October, a mere three months after the novel’s publication, after he faced disciplinary action for dealing with the media without prior authorisation. Grant has stressed A Moment More Sublime is not directly inspired by the labour dispute he was directly involved with in recent years, however press coverage of the college’s approach to Grant’s literary work has raised some speculation there may be more to the apparent fictional work that initially meets the eye.
‘Grant writes eloquently and breathes life into the rather dry subject of labour disputes’
Grant writes eloquently and breathes life into the rather dry subject of labour disputes by ensuring all the characters, from the morally bankrupt managers and their lackies, to the often bizarre members of teaching staff, are well-rounded and at all times humorous. Whether it’s the Klingon-obsessed teacher, the secretary who seduced her way to a more prestigious position, or the inattentive and erratic student, Grant’s characterisation and brief witty interludes drive the third person narrative on at a rapid pace.
A Moment More Sublime is a surprising novel. It is a novel which, based in the realms of fiction, reflects on current predicaments within our education system and, as such, is hugely topical. Grant, through the use of Aristotle’s philosophy, also prompts the reader to consider what it means to be a good and wise person even when the rule of petty tyrants impinges upon our own relatively small worlds.