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Falconer's Lure, recently reprinted by Girls Gone By Press, fills in a lot of the gaps that confused me as a child reading Antonia Forest's Kingscote books; how the Marlows seemed to live a long way from the school at first, and then much closer, and who Patrick was, and why he only appeared later on, and where the hawks came from. It's a much more "typical" children's holiday story than The Marlows and the Traitor, or indeed Peter's Room which I finally read a couple of years ago, with a loose and episodic plot covering typical (and not so typical) summer holiday activities; swimming, riding, hawking. Forest being Forest, though, this isn't your typical sunny summer holiday book; death and bereavement loom large, and the Marlows continue to be deeply dysfunctional in a stiff-upper-lip kind of way and not entirely likeable.

There are some really stunning passages in this book; the scene where Nicola and Patrick are on the Crowlands, watching Jon's plane in the distance, struck me in particular (I knew from reading later books, online synopses and fic what was going to happen, but it was still incredibly well done). I love how Forest shifts the viewpoint from character to character, never letting the reader completely sympathise with anyone but giving everyone, even the rather difficult characters like Ann and Ginty, at least a moment of sympathy. And Peter's diving scene reminded me of the thing I most loved about the Marlows as a child, and still do now: the way they use quotations and scenes from fiction and poetry to understand and interpret the world. I never really identified with any of the Marlows; they were all too brave and sporty and outgoing for me, apart possibly from Lawrie in whom I can see a lot of the things I least like about myself, but I absolutely recognised that way of filtering life through art, and I don't think I'd ever seen it described before. Certainly not in such a recognisable way. (Also, the idea of Peter and Selby earnestly debating whether Childe Roland defeated what was in the Dark Tower or not until the person behind them got fed up is wonderfully entertaining, and also absolutely the kind of thing I would do too.)

There's now only one Marlows book I haven't read, The Ready-Made Family. I was going to wait until Girls Gone By reprinted it, but having just realised that it comes after The Thuggery Affair and not before and is therefore likely to be more like 18 months away than 12 I have ordered an expensive secondhand copy. I hope this one turns up - I did try this once before and was then told that the book had been returned to the sender after being damaged in the post, though I can't help wondering if they actually had it to send in the first place.
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I read Antonia's Forest's four school stories (Autumn Term, End of Term, The Cricket Term and The Attic Term) from the public library when I was ten or eleven and a huge school story fan, but although at some point I became vaguely aware that she had also written a number of non-school set books about the same characters I only ever managed to read The Thuggery Affair and Run Away Home. This didn't matter too much, as continuity-wise I was all over the place anyway; I'm pretty sure the first one I read was The Attic Term, which is the last but one, but when I saw that Girls Gone By were reprinting them all I was keen to get them. The Marlows and the Traitor is the second in the series, after Autumn Term; it was reprinted a few months ago but didn't feel like the right kind of book to read in winter, so I saved it for spring.

I'm not sure why I was surprised that it's really quite a disturbing book. Even as a child, I knew that the Kingscote books were much more realistic than the jolly fantasy of Malory Towers or the slightly Stepford-esque Chalet School where every troubled new girl is transformed into "a proper Chalet girl" by the end of her first term, part of the big happy Chalet community. (Apart from Joan Baker, who is unable to overcome the terrible disadvantage of not only being working class but completely unashamed of it, and who therefore remains an outsider until the end of her time at school.) And the other Forest "holiday books" I've read were also pretty heavy on the not-particularly-mild peril and light-to-nonexistent on the cosiness of remembered childhood. But even so, and even given that I'd read enough online discussion of Forest to have a reasonable idea of the plot, I was still surprised by just how scary I found bits of it (to the extent that it definitely gave me nightmares last night). It's fantastically well written, of course, and contains some really atmospheric descriptive passages. And I love the Marlows; they're such complex, real characters. Nicola has always been my favourite, mostly because she's a reader (and was the person who first got me interested in Hornblower) but I was surprised by how much Traitor made my sympathise with Ginty, who is normally one of my least favourites.

Next up will be Falconer's Lure, which is due to be reprinted at the end of May. I don't know why Forest isn't better known, when she was such a good writer; thank goodness for Girls Gone By at least, as older copies are incredibly expensive even where they are available.


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