Given the fact that I’ve been on a school story binge after my weekend at the book conference, it’s hardly a surprise that I’d pick a boarding school book as my BotW at some point. I picked up a copy of Antonia Forrest’s Autumn Term at Bristol for free – its owner was giving it away to someone who hadn’t read it, as the first few pages were loose so it was unsalable.
Autumn Term is the first book in the Marlow series and tells the story of Nicola and Laurie Marlow’s first term at boarding school Their older sisters are already there – one is the headgirl in fact – and the twins are confident that they know exactly how things are going to play out for them. Except that it doesn’t go how they expect. They get in a row before they even arrive, then they’re not in the form that they expect to be in and that throws all their plans into disarray. How will they recover from this – and will they recover from this – is the subject of the book.
This is one of the best boarding school books I think I’ve read. I can imagine that if I’d read it at the “right” age for it, I might not have loved it, but as an adult it completely knocked my socks off. This has possibly the most complicated and rounded set of characters that I’ve come across in Girl’s Own fiction. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses – even the one’s that you’re meant to like. There are no perfect paragons or cartoon baddies here. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and over the course of the book you get to see their triumphs and disasters. You can cheer them on as things go well, or hide your head in your hands as they plunge themselves into trouble without thinking.
I’ve read one book in this series before – but it’s a holiday book and although it turned out to be quite an exciting spy adventure in the end, I didn’t really understand the characters the way that I do now having read this and there is a lot of naval and sailing detail to get bogged down in. But having read this, I’ve put getting my hands on more of the Marlow books well up my acquisitions list.
As I mentioned, my copy came for free at a book sale (don’t worry, I bought other things from the same stall as well) and it’s out of print so if you want to read it you’re going to have to go secondhand as well as it’s not available on Kindle. Abebooks has some for under £10 including postage – or you could try your local charity shop with a large childrens section.