The Head Girl at the Gables by Angela Brazil

The Head Girl at the Gables cover

I mentioned earlier that I had been reading The Head Girl at the Gables by Angela Brazil. It was one of the books which I bought while we were in Aberdeen recently. I hadn’t read any of Brazil’s books before but as a youngster I devoured Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two writers.

The Malory Towers books were written for primary school girls I’m sure and I suppose that Angela Brazil was aiming her books at older girls, so it’s maybe an unfair comparison but I have to say that the Brazil books are much better written than Blyton’s. The setting for Head Girl at the Gables is Cornwall, just as for the Malory Towers books.

The book was written in 1919 and the First World War does feature in it with some of the schoolgirl’s brothers away at the front and German spies being thought to be in the area. The Gables is a small private school with around 40 girls in it. It’s owned and run by the two Kingsley sisters, unmarried of course as women teachers had to be in those days.

Their first problem in the new academic year is – who to choose as head girl, there’s no obvious candidate as far as the Misses Kingsley are concerned, but one of the girls takes it for granted that she will be chosen and is very disgurntled when she isn’t.

Porthkeverne is a coastal town, favoured by artists because of its quaintness and presumably its good light. Lorraine and her siblings form friendships with the Castleton children whose father has used them all as models in his popular paintings. It’s all very different from the lifestyle that Lorraine is used to, theirs is a Bohemian life with a young step-mother who had been their father’s model whom he married when his first wife died. She seems to be having a baby a year – poor thing.

There are disappointments which turn out to be for the best, I suppose this type of book was a sort of guide book to life in some ways, but I think they were condemned by some when they were first published as being a bad influence for young girls, which surely contributed to their popularity! So many other writers jumped onto the school story bandwagon but I think these ones were the originals.

Great Minerva! and Great Judkins! are the exclamations of the day. But the real world does break into the storyline with brothers being called up to the army and those aforementioned German spies.

This was better written than I had expected, I must admit that I bought the book because I was drawn to the cover. I do like those Blackie and Son covers.

I know that by complete coincidence another blogger whom I follow was also having her first experience of reading an Angela Brazil book as I was reading this one, but I can’t remember who it was and can’t find the blogpost which is annoying as I wanted to link to it.

Amended: Thanks Barb. It was Leaves and Pages.

Voices in Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher

Voices in Summer was first published in 1984, which seems like yesterday to me but I had to remind myself that it is actually 30 years ago – amazingly. A few times in the book there is reference to a character looking for a telephone box to call someone and things like that really date it. I don’t know about you but any mention of a phone box and I can smell one, not a pleasant memory I’m sure you’ll agree. I can imagine that some younger people will be reading Pilcher’s books for the charmingly nostalgic atmosphere, the way my generation reads books like Angela Thirkell’s, harking back to a gentler society – even in wartime!

Voices in Summer is set in Cornwall, which is where the author was born and grew up but she married a Scot and after that she lived in the Dundee area I believe. She certainly lived most of her life in Scotland and is generally regarded as a Scottish author.

This one is a light read, good for beach reading or when you’re travelling and don’t want to concentrate on much. It’s a bit of a romance with some mystery thrown in for good measure.

Laura is recently married, to Alec a well off businessman, and their story begins in London where they live. Laura is Alec’s second wife and she feels the presence of her predecessor hanging heavily in the house. Not that the first wife is dead, but she ran off with a younger man and poor Laura is having to live in her house with her choice of furniture and has even inherited the first wife’s friends.

I saw shadows of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in this one, there are quite a few similarities, not that it comes up to the standard of Rebecca. I’m the sort of reader who enjoys a lot of description in books, especially of landscapes but I do feel that Pilcher takes it all just a wee bit too far and she leaves nothing to the imagination. It’s almost as if she is writing in the stage directions too.

I mention that because I think that there are times when there are just too many words and it all gets in the way of the storyline and I just want to say to her — och get on with the tale!

Never happy – I hear you say. Or pernickety besom!

Of course this is another one which I read for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge.

Manna from Hades by Carola Dunn

Manna From Hades is the first book by Carola Dunn which I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Although it was first published in 2009, the book is set in Cornwall of the late 1960s or 70s, as the author spent a lot of her time there when she was growing up. She has definitely captured that atmosphere.

Eleanor Trewynn has spent a lot of her life living abroad as she and her husband spent their working lives helping those less fortunate in far flung countries. Now that she is retired and she is a widow she is living in a small Cornish village, having just had enough money to buy a small house, the ground floor of which she has turned into a charity shop, while upstairs she has her home.

Whilst gathering donations for the shop Eleanor discovers a small case full of jewellery amongst the clothing but has no idea who donated it, and so begins a mystery! I’m not going to say any more about the storyline as I don’t want to spoil it for people!

This is an entertaining sort of easy reading book which harks back to the time when female detectives were a rare thing and women weren’t allowed to wear trousers to work. Something which I’m sure people can hardly believe nowadays but until the equality of the sexes laws came about in the mid 1970s that is what life was like for women.

It says on the front cover A Cornish Mystery and that was one of the reasons I chose this book because if a book is set in Cornwall then it’s a plus for me. I just realised recently that the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton is set in Cornwall and I loved those books so they probably kick started my love for Cornwall, long before I ever managed to visit the place – and I wasn’t disappointed when I eventually got there.

Anyway, I’m keen to read more of Carola Dunn’s books, even if they don’t have a Cornish setting. Although Dunn was born and raised in England she now lives in the US – Oregon I believe.

My thanks to Jo at The Book Jotter who encouraged me to start reading Dunn’s books, although Jo hasn’t read this one yet.

Castle Dor by Daphne du Maurier

This book was started by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch but he died before he could complete it. Years later his daughter asked Daphne du Maurier to complete it, he had set it aside near the end of a chapter about half-way through. Du Maurier had met ‘Q’ when she was a child and thought she would be able to recapture something of his mood.

The lovers in this case are Amyot, a French onion seller who had been abused by the master of the ship that he been working on, and Linnet who is a young girl who has recently married a man much older than she is. It’s set in the 1860s.

This book wasn’t a great success for me, I usually particularly enjoy du Maurier’s books which have a Cornish setting but this one is just a retelling of the legend of Tristan and Iseult, or Isolde if you prefer. If you’re into that sort of thing then this might just be the book for you, but it’s certainly no Rebecca.

I’m hoping to work my way through all Daphne du Maurier’s books eventually and this one was on my 2011 Reading List but I don’t think that it’s a book which du Maurier herself would have chosen to start writing. I hadn’t read anything by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch before this. Has anybody read his books?

The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier

The King's General cover

Daphne du Maurier is one of a list of authors whose books I’m slowly working my way through. Rebecca is still my favourite , it’s the one I judge everything else against. The King’s General is on my 2011 Reading List.

This novel is set in du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall during the English Civil War. Cornwall was a Royalist county and she used the house which she rented from the Rashleigh family for 30 years in this story. She seems to have looked into the history of the house and the family and woven a story around them.

The story is narrated by Honor Harris and at the beginning she’s a teenager and is a bit too feisty for a female in 1653. Much to the horror of her family she starts a relationship with Sir Richard Grenvile, an arrogant, self-centred Cavalier who is feared and hated by friend and foe. He’s the King’s General in the West. (Cornwall)

An accident(?) befalls Honor and she ends up having to live a very different life from the one which she had imagined. The same can be said for everyone else too as Parliamentary forces gain control of Cornwall. The action moves back and forth across the county and Honor has to move from house to house as the enemy lays waste to the land and homes. But it’s Menabilly, with its secrets, which becomes one of the main features of the book. A lot of the characters were real people and there is a wee section at the end which tells you what actually happened to them and then an interesting postscript about the house.

As always with the books which Daphne du Maurier sets in Cornwall you get a real sense of her love for the county. Personally, I was really chuffed when the village of Gunnislake got a mention as a battle was fought near there. We had a holiday there a few years back and I really wish that I had read this book before I visited Cornwall. Although I love history, the English Civil War isn’t one of my strongpoints, and I was completely clueless about what went on in Cornwall at that time.

That’s fair enough I suppose, as I’m Scottish, but I really want to read some more books about it. This one was a good introduction to the subject. It’s not as good as Rebecca, which I think people either love or hate, but it’s certainly worth reading.

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

School for Love cover

It’s week 2 of the year so this is the second book which I’ve read from Katrina’s 2011 Reading List. It’s quite a chunkster at 785 pages and I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t get through it within the week but the dreich, freezing fog of yesterday meant that I spent a lot of the day reading, much longer than I had meant to actually.

Rosamunde Pilcher has set this book in her native Cornwall, although she has lived in Scotland for most of her life, since marrying a Scottish soldier at the end of World War II.

Anyway, I did enjoy this book, although I think that her book September is still my favourite one so far. Coming Home has such a lot going for it though. Ever since reading Rebecca in the year dot I’ve had a soft spot for books set in Cornwall.There’s also a sort of crazy comfort zone about books set during World War II for people brought up on stories told by parents with first hand experience of that time. Beginning in 1935 it’s the story of 14 year old Judith who is being left behind at a new boarding school as her mother is returning to Colombo to be with her husband and takes Jess, Judith’s 4 year old sister with her.

Aunt Louise has been given the job of looking after Judith during any school holidays but things don’t go to plan and it’s the Carey-Lewis’s of Nancherrow who become Judith’s surrogate family and her whole future is wrapped up with them and the people that she meets through them.

There are lots of familiar themes as Britain is at war and Pilcher goes into great detail about the rationing and wartime life which if you are about my age you will already have heard about from your parents. But there were things in it which were so familiar, like the smiling Border collie which sounded exactly like the one that I had in my childhood, except that our Candy actually laughed, truly!

In another part a merchant ship has a refit in the Brooklyn refit yard, New York. The same thing happened to my dad when he was in the Merchant Navy in the Atlantic Convoys during the war and he spent a wonderful 6 months in peacetime New York, having a good rest from being torpedoed by the Nazis. Well, it was a refit in New York, maybe not that specific yard. We even have a Dunkirk survivor and a Japanese POW camp survivor in the family just as in the book.

What we didn’t have though is the lovely Cornish house, Nancherrow, which is such an important character in the book, just like Rebecca’s Manderlay – which is acknowledged. But houses and the land in general play a large part in the story, which I think is the mark of Celtic literature.

There is a well flagged up incident in a cinema of the ‘something nasty in the woodshed variety’ and having led a sheltered life I have had no such experience. I’d like to think that if some dirty old man tried to take liberties with me I would have had the wit to bat his hand away and stand up shouting a rat has landed on my knee with the usherette’s torch trained on the assaillant I think it would have been obvious what had happened. I like to think that anyway but maybe I would have been frozen too.

So, I would recommend this one as a good read. However, I do think that it was written with an eye on it being made into a film – which I think it was, but I haven’t seen it. There is too much detail in it with not a lot of space left for the reader’s imagination as there is a lot of what I would regard as stage direction with a character’s every movement described.

On a really personal note, I couldn’t help noticing that every time a character wept – there is quite a lot of weeping – it was swiftly followed by them ‘lustily’ blowing their nose, and often not into a hanky. Once it was a towel, a sheet, a shirt tail and even curtains were considered but rejected, thankfully. Possibly nobody else would notice this, but as I waited nearly 10 years after getting married before starting a family and one of the reasons that I put it off so long was the fact that I can’t stand snotty nosed children, you’ll realise that I prefer a snot free zone. Thankfully my kids rarely had that problem or I might have had to take them back to the shop!

A good read, especially if you enjoy long books.