|Read an excerpt of the opening chapter|
London: Bloomsbury, c2011.
What a busy, busy last few weeks I've had! I haven't had much time to blog, and my brain has been crying out for some fun reading. So I picked up this book, by a favourite author, Marika Cobbold. This is a classic story of a young girl out of place at a fancy boarding school, who will try anything to be accepted by the in-crowd of pretty rich girls.
Eliza Cummings, a ceramics restorer at the V&A, is recalled to her past by an unexpected phone call from her best friend Rose's father, now an old man in Sweden. Rose drowned while at school, and Eliza has always blamed herself. Now she has to revisit the buried past as Ian requests that she come and visit him after many years of estrangement.
The story moves between past and present, and I enjoyed both elements. I found Eliza's job interesting (though perhaps a little metaphorically laden, what with Eliza continually putting things back together again). Her struggles with relationships and moving house were fascinating, revealing her character and how her past has affected the way she deals with life, despite her attempts to forget her traumatic experiences.
As the story of their school years emerges, we see a situation in which the odd girl out is bullied and deceived, and finally lashes out. How Rose and Eliza are complicit in this situation slowly becomes clearer, and the story seems to have an inevitable end. The freedom and entitlement that the rich students live with is contrasted with the struggles of scholarship students and, sadly, neither of them come off too well. The hothouse environment of the girls dormitory is set off by the nearby school of boys who are brothers, friends and potential boyfriends.
While the setup may appear a little trite at first glance, Cobbold has a writing style that can make it fresh. Her particular voice seems to be both making the same assumptions about English society that the characters do and yet at the same time, looking in from the outside, with a certain black perspective. She is a Swedish and British author so perhaps this plays into her style. It skews the narrative just that bit, enough to give us a new perspective. She doesn't shy away from dark motives, while also celebrating beauty and hope. I've always enjoyed her writing, and this one provided a lot of entertainment and was the engaging read I'd been looking for.
In its themes and setting it reminds me of another darkly suspenseful 'school story', Carol Goodman's Lake of Dead Languages. It had the same sense of mystery, and the same kind of adult character looking back on a dark past. Both very good! And perfect for those cold, rainy (or snowy!) days when you just want to curl up under a blanket and read about the mystery and mayhem that is happening to someone else.