Thursday, 12 February 2015

Thursday List: Books Set in Schools



schools 2

Christine Poulson (author, blogger and academic) and I became friends via blogging, and because of my enthusiasm for her excellent crime novels.

Last year she and I shared our lists of favourite Agatha Christie books – this is my list, while hers is here – and our books that made us laugh. We enjoyed this a lot, and the lists were very popular with readers, so we’re going to do more. Today we are each publishing a list of favourite schools in books – Christine’s blogpost is here. Here are my books (with links to blog entries where relevant) – we’re hoping for lots of great additions in the comments.

1) Meadowbank, a select all-girl boarding school in Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons. The games mistress is murdered, the foreign princess is abducted, the gardener is an impostor. That’s what I call a proper school. Also, it seems the girls have rooms to themselves, not dormitories. Also, contains one of my all-time favourite Christie lines, after schoolgirl Julia tells Poirot that her Aunt serves up ‘peculiar’ food, but ‘makes smashing omelettes.’
“Hercule Poirot has not lived in vain,” he said. ‘It was I who taught your Aunt Maureen to make an omelette.”
(To get the full effect you have to have read Mrs McGinty's Dead, where Aunt Maureen's cooking is a feature.)

2) The Marcia Blaine Academy in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a select day school in Edinburgh. I always fear that I would not have been one of the crème de la crème, Miss B would not have taken a fancy to me. For a start, I would have had my sleeves rolled up like someone ‘doing a day’s washing.’ She says: ‘I won’t have to do with girls who roll up the sleeves of their blouses… Roll them down at once, we are civilized beings.’
 
Schools 1

3) Linbury Court, where Jennings and Derbyshire hang out in the books by Anthony Buckeridge – wandered over from my list of books to make me laugh.

Schools 34) St Custard’s, home to Nigel Molesworth in the books by Geoffrey Willans and 
Ronald Searle. Home also to his ‘grate frend Peason’, and head boy Grabber, and Fotherington Thomas skipping round saying ‘Hello clouds, Hello sky.’ Either you are straight-faced and unamused, or you are smiling already and hoping to win the Mrs Joyful prize for raffia work.







5) Honest to goodness, old-fashioned school stories: Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers was my great favourite when I was very young….

6) …..while Antonia Forest’s books set at Kingscote School (Autumn Term, End of Term, Cricket Term, Attic Term) exert a magnetic hold over their fans well into adulthood.

7) What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge – Katy Carr and her sister Clover go to Hillsover School, hundreds of miles from their home in the mid-West of the USA, and stay there for a year with no holidays – this is the 1870s. I loved the SSUC – the Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct – with faithfully-reproduced games and verses. And it would be a sad heart that didn’t beat faster when the girls get their Christmas boxes: Coolidge lists the contents, and then describes how Katy and Clover share the goodies out with pupils whose parcels haven’t got through the snow yet.

8) I have to choose one more murder mystery – schools, and any academic institutions, are my favourite settings for a crime story. So I’ll go with Nicholas Blake’s 1935 A Question of Proof. It has all the proper ingredients:  beautiful wife of the headmaster, the young master in trouble, the unpopular schoolboy being murdered. The first book to feature Blake’s regular sleuth Nigel Strangeways, and apparently noted at the time for quoting from TS Eliot – young intellectuals sat up when they read that in the book, did they know that the writer was really poet C Day Lewis?

So that’s my eight – look forward to seeing what Chrissie chose, and hope to have lots of extras from the comments….

ADDED LATER: Intriguingly, Christine and I (who did not compare notes beforehand) have a very high proportion of our books-in-schools in common - I was very surprised...









41 comments:

  1. Great list Moira. I would definitely add "Jefferson Grammar School" where Hildegarde Withers teaches (see especially MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD) and Oakington School, as featured in James Hilton's MURDER AT SCHOOL

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    1. Thanks Sergio - I think you did a few books set in schools for a challenge a while back, didn't you? I found your list and now have lost it again...

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  2. Fascinated to see your list, Moira - and to see that we chose so many in common!
    Something to add to mysteries set in schools: Gladys Mitchell's Death at the Opera is set in a progressive co-educational school.

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    1. Oh yes - I read that one because I'm a big opera fan, and the opera content is minimal, but I was OK because it was in a school..
      I'm really impressed that we chose so many of the same ones.

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  3. Quite expected to see Danny King's School for Scumbags featuring, must be no. 9?

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    1. You are quite right Col, I should have included that one. Nostalgic memories of my son and I both enjoying that one.

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  4. Moira - What a fabulous list! Very glad ('though I'm not surprised) that you included the Christie. I second your thoughts about Christine Poulson's novels too - very nicely done. And there are so many others. One is the very dark - really bleak - Confessions from Kanae Minato.

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    1. Thanks Margot - perhaps we can expect a post from you on this subject at some point...?
      You spotlighted the Kanae Minato book recently I think, and I certainly do intend to read it.

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  5. As another Golden Age title to accompany Blake,Hilton and Mitchell, I'd suggest The Public School Murder by R.C. Woodthorpe. It was televised in the 60s in the brilliant Detective series, and I remember watching it as a schoolboy. What a pity that the BBC wiped most of the tapes...

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    1. thanks Martin - I've never heard of that one, and will definitely go and look it up...

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    2. ....unavailable on amazon, v expensive on abebooks. No chance of its being reprinted...?

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    3. Thanks Col - cheaper than abebooks but still not cheap....

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  6. So pleased to see Jennings and Derbyshire on your list, even if Chrissie Poulson doesn't have them on hers. I'm going to have to educate her about Jennings.
    Sue Hepworth.

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    1. Yes! Another fan! You definitely must get Chrissie onside....

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  7. Moira: Over a generation ago I loved the two volumes of To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield. I found it a sweeping saga of life in an English boarding school. It was not much like the boarding school I attended at the end of the 1960's. I think it may be time for me to read some Delderfield again.

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    1. I haven't thought about Delderfield in years Bill. I read others of his books but not those ones, but I did very much enjoy a TV series that was made of them, maybe early 1980s? Delderfield isn't mentioned much these days, but could bear reviving.

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  8. I enjoyed that TV series, too.
    To add to the list, here are a couple that I thought of, but that didn't make the final cut:
    Michael Gilbert's chilling The Night of the Twelth and Joanne Harris's Gentleman and Players.
    There is also Edmund Crispin's Love Lies Bleeding - which I wish I had chosen now!

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    1. More for me to look up! Did you ever read Elfrida Vipont's books when you were young - Lark in the Morn etc? They made my longlist but not my shortlist, though the top picture above is one I pinched from a blog entry on her.

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  9. No, haven't read Vipont's books. Must have a look. I didn't actually read many children's books when I was a child - I got on to books for adults quite early and they seemed easier to get hold of.

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    1. Did you use the library much? I remember sneaking across to the adult section and hoping I wouldn't be told off for doing that... but I seemed to get away with it. And I do know that I was reading real lightweight children's stuff at the same time as getting on to adult authors - so I always encourage young people to do the same: read everything, and never be embarrassed.

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    2. We lived in a small village and I couldn't get to a library on my own. Perhaps that is partly why I love them so much now. I agree with you about reading everything.

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    3. Library was my second home when I was young, I was lucky to live in a big city and could walk there. Also the school library, which was limited but had some treasures...

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  10. Is this only for Golden Age books? I'd say The Secret Place, by Tana French, set in an Irish boarding school, was quite good, but it's contemporary.

    Agree: Young people should read anything and everything, and I'd add "Question everything." As a child of the 1960s, this was my mantra.

    As a young teenager, in a house with good books all around, I read what I wanted to read, usually muckraking fiction, but some other books by British and U.S. authors. When I wanted to read a crummy book, my father, who introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, by the way, told me not to read it, as it was "trash." Being the kind of 15-year-old that I was, I read it the next day.

    My independent conclusion: It was trashy and I vowed never to read books just because my friends were reading them. So while they were reading mindless,
    nonsocially redeeming books about people leading horrid lives, I wasn't.

    (Note to parents: Let teens read what they want to, just talk to them about books
    and values. They'll figure it out. It's frightening to me to hear people say they
    don't want their children to read certain books because the values are
    different from theirs. I think talking and thinking are the best bets. Doing
    it a lot is good.

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    1. No, modern books welcome Kathy! I have bought the Tana French on your recommendation, but haven't got to it yet.
      I totally agree with what you say about children and teenagers and books.

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  11. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray - set in an Irish boys' school. 600 pages long but I loved every one of them. This book restored my faith in modern novels. Don't believe all the 'comic novel' quotes on the cover. Yes, there are really funny bits, but it has a lot more to it than that. It left me thinking long after I finished it - about the craft of writing, and the breadth of the subject matter. An absolute gem.

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    1. I always had that book in the back of my mind as one I should read, but didn't get round to it. Thanks for pointing it out- you do a great job making me wish I had!

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  12. I worry about saying anything about parents and teens as I don't have children. But I was one once and there are many in my life.
    I have a friend whose daughter is now in college. Some of the books she read in high school concerned me; the topics were those of urban crises, brutal, searing. I spoke to her mother about this, as I bought her daughter a present of books.
    She said as long as they talked about the topics, -- and as long as her daughter
    didn't read them before bedtime -- all was well.
    I do worry about them being subjected to really tough topics at young ages --
    but then again there is the nightly news, not so easy to see.
    There is so much more to read now than when I was a teenager, which
    is great and does expose youth to so much more of the world, a good thing.

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    1. It's a difficult question, Kathy, I agree. You hardly want to censor young people's reading, but also you don't want to give them nightmares, or too cynical a view of the world too early. You just have to make day to day decisions I think.

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  13. I'll bet you know the Chalet School books by Elinor-Brent-Dyer. t was a Swiss school for girls of all nationalities, where on certain days of the week they could speak only French, or only German or only English. I wanted to go there!

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    1. Oh my goodness yes Gabi, you are so right, I certainly knew them. I loved those books and read many of them, and I too wanted to be a pupil there and learn all those languages. I think their uniforms were gentian blue...

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  14. Day-to-day decisions is good. Also, talking about books with your children is key, too. The friend whose daughter read quite searing, realistic books is a teacher and she knew what her daughter was reading and discussed the topics with her.
    Whatever broadens thinking is good.

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    1. Yes - and I think you have to trust the young people too, and hope that they are getting their values at home as well as in books.

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  15. I'm so glad you are saying this. I had a conversation with someone I know who was afraid to let her very smart teen-age daughter read books about characters who were not of their religion. I couldn't believe my ears.
    Having had values instilled by my parents, as we all did, they have never been shaken by anything I've read. I've learned, expanded my thinking and my world in so many ways, but those core values are there.
    When I hear comments like that, I wonder why the teenager couldn't
    expand her reading -- and her parents discuss books with her.
    I just don't understand people being afraid of discussing ideas, words, different
    cultures, etc. It's an enigma to me.

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    1. Yes, I used to tell people I was arrogant, and assumed I could influence my children in the right way no matter what they read! And surely better they can discuss it with parents if they do find anything disturbing....

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  16. I have a rather scarce one that fits this category to recommend to your attention: Sweet Poison, by Rupert Penny. (http://noah-stewart.com/2012/09/05/sweet-poison-by-rupert-penny/). Not the best-written book I've ever recommended, but an interesting puzzle against the school background.

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    1. That sounds very intriguing, I really enjoyed your review. Love the idea of 'three penorth of chocs come Michaelman', no idea what it means but it has a great ring to it. I think I have to get hold of this one....

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  17. Have you read Secret Places by Janice Elliott? Set partly in a girl's school during the war
    It's called The Albert Lodge School for Girls. Probably out of print and rather obscure but I have always liked it.

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    1. I don't think I have read that, though the name rings a faint bell, I will look it up. Maybe I read something else by her? there's a similar-sounding book by Gillian Freeman that I didn't think of for my list: The Easter Egg Hunt.

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  18. Sorry to get to this list (and Christine's) so late but I did have the advantage of reading more suggestions in the comments this way. Many of yours I am not familiar with, including the Christie. I have two suggestions of books that I enjoyed. (Actually they made me uncomfortable because of the setting but that is not all bad.) Is high school level too old? Jane Haddam's The Headmaster's Wife is set in a New England prep school. Elizabeth George's Well-Schooled in Murder is set in a public school in West Sussex. I haven't read Elizabeth George's recent books but really liked the earlier ones.

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    1. No High School is fine Tracy! I have read the Haddam: it was a good one, and I think of it sometimes when I am making coffee (!). Not a big fan of Elizabeth George, but I'm always thinking I should try her again.

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