It’s been a few weeks since I last did a Five From the Archive, and perhaps My Life in Books has brought a few new readers (hello!), so I’ll quickly explain what it is. Once I’d been blogging for five years, I had a glance back at the hundreds of books I’d written about, and thought that it was a shame that wonderful titles would be lost in the annals of my archive. So every week now and then, I’ll pick a theme and choose five great books from my review archive to fit it – it’s fun finding unexpected connections between much-loved books. An index of all previous Five From the Archive posts can be found here. This week, inspired by the wonderful school scene in Blue Remembered Hills, I have picked an apposite theme:
Five… Books About School
In short: I could fill this list with children’s school stories, but I’ll stick with this series which I loved as a child – mischievous (but, of course, good-hearted) twins Pat and Isabel get up to schoolgirl antics.
From my review: “Blyton appears to have had a pathological hatred of ‘tell-tales’ (which always seems to me to be invented as an excuse for teachers to ignore the majority of children’s squabbles) and a fervour for sport, and Janet (in the ‘good egg’ category) is so bluntly rude that I wanted to push her down a well – despite all these things, I’ve been joyously reliving my youth through these books.”
In short: My favourite ICB novel so far, the politics and in-fighting of a girls’ school provide a perfect setting for Compton-Burnett’s characteristic wit and discord. There is only one line of dialogue from a pupil…
From my review: “Would people talk like this? No, definitely not. Would people act like this? Probably no. But would people feel like these characters feel? Yes – absolutely – and it is Ivy Compton-Burnett’s genius that she can interweave the genuine and the bizarre.”
In short: I would pick The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie if I’d ever reviewed it here – so this is the next best thing. Spark’s brilliant autobiography includes wonderful sections on Miss Christina Kay, Spark’s teacher and the inspiration for Miss Jean Brodie.
From my review: “There are definitely signs of Spark-the-novelist in the structuring of
the autobiography. Her usual trick of playing around with time makes an
appearance, but it’s the enticingly disjointed beginning which made me
realise Spark-the-autobiographer was no real distance from
In short: We follow only-child Judith Earle through childhood and emotional student days (I’m stretching a point), as she is forever tethered to the family that lived next door.
From my review: “It takes a talented writer to write about childhood without the novel feeling like a children’s book, and Lehmann achieves this wonderfully.”
In short: A cross between Othello and Notes on a Scandal, an affair between pupil and piano teacher at Eton becomes a study in jealousy.
From my review: “The Well-Tempered Clavier is a beautiful book, managing to use a simple narrative voice without a consequently bland style – honesty, beauty, and passion pervade the novel, but so do humour, youthfulness and energy.”
As always – your suggestions, please!