Saturday, 10 September 2011

Focus On: Antonia Forest

Run Away Home (The Marlows, #10)
In March I read The Marlows and the Traitor, the second in the Marlows series by Antonia Forest and the last book of hers I had left to read.  This did not fill me with joy.  She's one of those writers who never wrote nearly enough to satisfy her fans, even though she wrote ten books over the course of 34 years, and even though they are all quite long for children's books.  All but one of her books focus on the Marlow family; four are school stories; two are historical; and they all feature wonderful prose, believable characters and an ironic view of the world. 

Unlike a lot of school stories, Kingscote is a real school: no wonderfully understanding headmistress, no jolly nice prefects, and no guarantee that the 'villains' will be punished at the end.  The girls are teenage girls, with cliques, rivalries, and friendships that often include cruel words and painful ostracism.  Within the Marlow family there are favourites, arguments and misunderstandings.  Even Nicola, the heroine, is not saved from being wrong or spared ironic representation. 

To summarise: I am a massive fan of these books.

So, I'm going to have a reread.  First the present day Marlow series, then the two historical novels, and finally The Thursday Kidnapping, the standalone book.

The Marlows series
Published between 1948 and 1982, the books only cover two and a half years in the lives of the characters but are all set during the time in which they were written.  The series starts with references to the Blitz and ends with characters watching Morecambe and Wise.  There are seven books in the series: four school stories and three 'holiday' books, although the events of these last range from spies to gymkhanas.

Autumn Term (1948)
The Marlows and the Traitor (1953)
Falconer's Lure (1957)
End of Term (1959)
Peter's Room (1961)
The Thuggery Affair (1965)
The Ready-Made Family (1967)
The Cricket Term (1974)
The Attic Term (1976)
Run Away Home (1982)

Historical novels
The Player's Boy (1970) and The Players and the Rebels (1971) are really one book split in half for length.  They're set in the later years of Elizabeth I, are mentioned in the main series, and feature Shakespeare, Marlow and the Essex Rebellion.

The Thursday Kidnapping
Published in 1963 this is the only book by Antonia Forest not to feature the Marlow family.  It is set in Hampstead Heath, where she grew up, and features one of the most painfully accurate portrayals of a lonely girl I've ever read.

Of all these books, my favourite is The Cricket Term - though whether that will change when I've reread them all, I don't know.  I suspect it won't, but you never know.

Later: Autumn Term, which I haven't read all the way through for ages.

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