There’s been a lot of discussion on the girlsown mailing list
recently about Marie Dobson and how she is bullied, and Nicola’s character in relation to this. And it’s recently segued into a discussion of how good Antonia Forest is, compared to all authors, not just school story ones. Obviously this is a community of fans, so I’m not really expecting anyone to pop up here and start explaining why they don’t really like Forest (though it’s fine if anyone wants to!). But I thought it might be interesting, since trennels
has been quite quiet lately, to ask here what people particularly enjoy about her – style, characterisation, plot, description, drama? – and examples of that - and indeed what you don't like.
For me she has been a favourite writer since I first encountered her books as a child. Some of her books I wasn’t able to find until I was an adult anyway, and I found them just as gripping. I think her biggest strengths are in her style, and the depth of her characterisation of a wide range of people. Almost no one is unambiguously good or bad in her books, and I’m able to understand and get involved with characters I don’t necessarily like as people, but find fascinating nonetheless. Even someone like Rowan, who is mainly and effectively held up as an admirable person, can and does hold grudges, make mistakes and mishandle people. I think one of Forest’s strengths is her ability – despite plainly having strong views on many things – not necessarily to have her favourite characters share her beliefs, or give one the sense that the world she’s created is being forced into shape to vindicate them. She does I think fail at this in her handling of Ann in Run Away Home
and in the accounts given of the post-Conciliar Catholic church particularly in Attic Term
– though to the extent that the latter come from Patrick, I think they are in character. Nicola shares some of her enthusiasms – for the Navy, Nelson, and Hornblower for example – but that works very differently.
I don’t rate all the books equally highly, but even those which I consider lesser, such as Thuggery Affair
have some scenes I’d be very reluctant to lose, like the canoe trip at the beginning. Though I think Thuggery Affair
has too much plot, and that plotting is not one of her strengths. Instead, she’s good at themes, like death and betrayal in Falconer’s Lure
and Peter’s Room
. In fact I wonder if the school/family story genre suits her partly because it is rather episodic, and I think her best books (Cricket Term
, End of Term
, Falconer’s Lure
) are episodic. There is drama, there are crises, but nothing is fully resolved and other bits of life are always going on around the big moments.
One other aspect which came up on girlsown was whether school stories as a genre are generally not that good when compared to other children’s or adult literature. Thinking about other books than Forest’s with a strong school aspect which I would put on any list of good books, as opposed perhaps to my favourite school stories (not that I am any good at lists, they change every time I make them), I’ve come up with the following on a first think; books that have a strong shape and feel in my mind still, even though I may not have read them for many years:Frost in May
, Antonia WhiteCharlotte Sometimes
, Penelope FarmerBallet Shoes
, Noel StreatfeildSwarm in May
, William MayneNightwatch Winter
, Jenny Overton
(ETA: Am temporarily deleting my lj as I need not to be distracted at the moment; I will be back.)