The School at the Chalet by Elinor M Brent-Dyer

school_1987

Last year, I read a lot of Chalet School books. I read them in the bath, mostly. They’re small, slim little books meant for children – meant for children of my mother’s generation, maybe even earlier.

There are sixty-something in the series, depending on how you count them, starting in the 1920s and continuing until at least the 1960s but Brent-Dyer didn’t really keep up with the rest of the world and they never really move beyond their 1940s upper-middle-class sensibilities. It’s about a girls’ private boarding school, started in Austria before moving to Guernsey during the war, before discovering that wasn’t such a good idea and moving to Wales and finally back to the Alps in Switzerland.

Last week, I reread the first one. Madge and Dick Bettany, twins of twenty-four, suddenly need to find something to do to make some money and look after their twelve-year-old sister, who is delicate. Dick works for the Forestry Commission in India but it’s out of the question for the girls to go with him, so Madge decides, being as poor as they are, to buy a huge chalet in Austria, formerly a hotel, and open a school. It’s an idea destined for spectacular failure in the world I live in, and yet by the end of the first term, Madge has eighteen pupils and four more ready to start next term.

The Chalet School begins its tradition of mountain mishaps right from the beginning – a violent storm that comes out of absolutely nowhere and benights the entire school in a herdsman’s hut, and a fourteen-year-old taking on the most serious mountain in the region, which doesn’t seem to require anything more technical than ability to walk uphill for six hours and cross a very short section of path which is narrow and next to an abyss. It really doesn’t sound too terrible to me but Grizel and Joey come to grief on it and Joey nearly dies. Joey frequently nearly dies. I’m so glad her daughters turned out a bit hardier than her.

These books are ridiculous and they are definitely, unmistakably a product of their time. I don’t know that they’ve aged well. And yet there’s something in them that inspires so much fondness among so many people.

Advertisements

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is the first real post on my shiny new book blog, the others having been imported untidily from my travel & adventure blog, I Am A Polar Bear. So yay?

americangods

In the corner of the world I live in, people really like Neil Gaiman and it feels like such a cliche to add my voice to that. But the first book I read in 2016 was his American Gods and then, idiot that I am, I thought I’d go and read more about it. I soon learnt that there are in fact plenty of people who are not fans so I’ll write about it after all.

American Gods is a huge doorstopper of a book and I own the Author’s Preferred version, which has 12,000 extra words sprinkled throughout it. I’m not generally a huge fan of enormous books like that. By the time I’m halfway through, I’ve forgotten the beginning and I’m starting to wish the book would just finish already. But American Gods works as a big book. That might – or might not – be because no one, not even the author, really knows what it’s meant to be. It’s a bit fantasy, a bit scifi, a bit horror, a bit thriller, a bit murder mystery, a bit road trip, a bit coming-of-age story and that’s borne out by the fact that it’s won the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards, which are literary awards for three different genres.

It’s a big book and a big twisting story that wanders across the USA, it has some horrible moments (one that I spend two-thirds of the book dreading and then hastily skip over when it finally arrives), it’s magic and mystery and belief and murder and fantasy and truth… and I love it. I don’t know what exactly appeals to me so much but I’ll go back to this book pretty regularly. I like some of Gaiman’s other books but none of them have my heart the way this one does, except Good Omens, which is quite the literary gateway drug.