Sunday, 5 March 2006
Honeysuckle Rose played by Fats Waller.
- Antonia Forest, Autumn Term.
This is children’s fiction from 1948, and a very enjoyable read. It’s also clearly a book for girls, being all about two twin sisters who start at a girls’ secondary school, following four other, older sisters. This means that the canonical school activities are netball and guiding. No doubt this would have been enough to totally put me off the book (and its many sequels featuring the Marlow family) as a teenager, but hey, there have got to be some advantages in being a grown-up.
The central character is Nicola Marlow (her twin sister is Lawrie), who arrives at school with all sorts of grand ambitions, mainly relating to the way in which she will surpass the sisters who have gone before her. Her grand ideas take a variety of knocks over the course of the story, and she has to revise her opinions about some of the other school-girls too. The novel builds to a grand climax involving the production of a dramatised version of Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. It’s all very satisfying, and I’m looking forward to reading some of the sequels (some of which also have a more central rôle for the brothers, apparently).
One of the particularly interesting aspects of the Marlowe novels is that the setting moves about in the second half of the 20th century while maintaining an overall continuity of perhaps 6 years, without any theme of time travel.
For example, in one book an event is descibed as happening when someone is watching Top of the Pops, in another the uniforms are changed because now that WW2 is over they can get red fabric again, in (yet) another Mrs Marlowe says that her brothers were killed in the Great War.
I'm very interested in how you came to read this book, especially as an adult. The Marlowe books haven't even been that easy to find for some time, although they are now starting to come back into print. (Newfound appreciation for the classic English school story in the age of Harry Potter? Can Mallory Towers and The Naughtiest Girl in School be far behind?)
The edition I read of Autumn Term was published recently by Faber, but I don’t know that Faber have bothered with any of the others. Instead, some of them have been reprinted by an English outfit called Girls gone by. It seems GGB don't keep much in print at any one time (only one Antonia Forest novel at the moment).
As for how I came to read it; put it down to a wife with good taste! It’s not a genre I can claim any real knowledge of, so the other titles you mention don’t mean anything to me. I do remember Mum often talking about Monica of the Sixth. I don’t know if this was ever a real book, or just a title (or a character) Mum distilled as typical.
I don't know of Monica of the Sixth (neither does Amazon, apparently), but it's certainly instantly evocative.
The two series I mentioned are low-end instances of the genre, both perpetrated by Enid Blyton. That you haven't read them says only good things about you, really.
One other British school story I do recommend is Diana Wynne Jones' Witch Week (ok, not just a school story). Oh, and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I guess that's two recommendations.