Read Peter's Room by Antonia Forest Free Online
Book Title: Peter's Room|
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Reader ratings: 7.2
The author of the book: Antonia Forest
Edition: Faber and Faber Fanfare
Date of issue: November 1st 1978
ISBN 13: 9780571112685
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 6.10 MB
City - Country: No data
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Some twenty years ago there was an author popular among the awards crowd; whatever this person wrote was always up for an award, and often won. Then went out of fashion as someone else took that place as the Golden One for the next five years or so. At the time, I tried a couple of the author's works, novel and short piece, and I noticed that at every crisis inevitably someone introduced a gun into the scene, whereupon the stakes shifted to violence and the aftermath of violence.
I found this predictable, and also disappointing, as if the writer couldn't find anything more interesting about the characters to write about than their brains splattering walls.
This struck me when I reached the end of this remarkable book--if a contemporary writer were to take the same plot (only would they be able to deal so effortlessly with literature?) the endpoint would be gruesomely pomo, and probably lauded for that, but would it be worth rereading?
The thing about Antonia Forest is that these books, written for kids, are so beautifully complicated that fans reread them over years. (Those who are lucky enough to get their hands on them. Take a look at the staggering prices of used copies; I can't believe whoever holds the rights is this clueless!)
Peter's Room is arguably one of the best of Antonia Forest's Marlow series. (To call them school stories is akin to calling a Faberge egg a paperweight. You can use one as a paperweight, and it will perform that function satisfactorily, but oh, there is so much more to Faberge's creation!)
This book doesn't actually take place at boarding school, but during the winter holidays between terms. Peter is the first one home, so he busies himself cleaning out a shippen, an abandoned cow shed that has a sizable room upstairs crammed with stuff. Some of it is interesting stuff; he sorts it all, cleans the room, decorates it with a stuffed bird and some antique guns and swords found in a bag. He also saves out a paper from a bereaved father who, in 1645, notes that his son has ridden off to join the Royalists. Peter reflects on how passionate he got as a young student about such things, as if the Roundheads and Cavaliers were still an issue.
The other kids arrive, and for a time are full of reactions to events in the previous book, and then, quite by accident, the twins next-older, pretty sister Ginty starts talking about a student project: the Brontes. Specifically the juvenilia of the Bronte kids--Angria and Gondal--and how they kept it up, more or less, well into adulthood: in Emily's case, her interest only dying with her. Older sister Karen is quite scornful about it all, especially targeting Emily, intimating that she ought to have laid aside childish pleasures in favor of reality, regardless of how grim their lives were. (She decides it couldn't have been very grim, because they got away from Haworth . . . without at all understanding Emily's nature).
The upshot is that the twins (Nicola and Lawrie), Peter, Patrick, and Ginty decide to play Gondal. They're going to invent a story and role-play the characters, the story becoming very involved indeed as they march toward the holidays, get through them, and then hold a fox hunt in winter.
Forest does an omniscient narrator so beautifully; I can't see that any other narrative device would do justice to the complex characters, who all have such varied inner lives as well as their emotional changes, that everyday events become so layered. And one of these layers is the class subtleties. The Marlows, having unexpectedly inherited an estate, did not inherit a jot of wealth with it, but that doesn't seem to matter. Their status has taken a step up, as they discover during the social activities. It's not overtly stated, but it's there for the noticing.
From this point on, I can't talk about the book without some plot spoilers, so if you don't like any discussion of what happens after the opening, don't read on!
Really, plot is going to be discussed!
Okay. This is an unusual book because so much of it is taken up with the Gondal, as the kids come to call it. (They also use Gondal as a verb, as in Let's Gondal now.) It parallels their real lives, sometimes dovetailing in the way imaginative kids often do. Nicola's twin Lawrie, who is intensely devoted to acting, is deeply involved in the game, and when she is disappointed at the outcome, is perfectly capable of going off herself to her room to act out how things ought to have gone.
Ginty, who first produced the idea, focuses fairly quickly in on Patrick, for whom the reader can tell she's developing feelings, as he is for her. It's very, very tentative; he admires how pretty she is, and she mainly wants to hold his character in her arms (she's a fellow soldier) as he dies. She does her best to bend the story in this direction, while finding a shivery undercurrent of truth in unexpected places; they also develop a side story, just the two of them, based around a forced betrothal to someone else, and their secret romance.
Ginty clings hard to the Gondal, wanting it to be true in some way, while knowing it's simply a story. She finds corroboration . . . to another dimension in which, it might be, Crispian and Rupert and the rest were true--had been true--and they themselves were only acting out something which had once been real. It could happen. It did happen. If one wanted proof one only had to remember those two plays of Priestley's--I Have Been Here Before and Time And The Conways . . . and always provided one didn't say it aloud (especially to Nicola) it was gloriously convincing; it was like Flecher's poem about the oldest of the ships--about the mast breaking open with a rose and all the planks putting on leaves again: a thing which could be true--if only it was.
Literature is a deep influence, part of their everyday lives, and so is history. At a crucial juncture they find out the truth about that son who rode away to join the Cavaliers, . . . There was a moment's violent silence, loud with old betrayals and antique feuds and ancient enmities. And then Nicola said, "Lumme, what a heel!" and the long dead things went back to their own place
Nicola, who in some ways is the central character of this book--of the series--doesn't trust the Gondal, and comes to hate it for reasons she cannot fathom, except that she senses deep emotional waters that she cannot define. It's that inability to define them, but especially the strange alteration she observes in Patrick (who gets so deeply into character that he quite unconsciously develops a different countenance when he's thinking Gondal outside the story), that causes her trust to turn to a violent antipathy. One thing she is sure of: she feels emotionally betrayed.
One of the most remarkable chapters in the book is the fox hunt, which is mostly done from Nicola's POV. I'd quote entire passages if I could, the writing is so splendid. At its climax, Patrick passes her and looks back with his Gondal face.
She has no idea how upsetting--intruiguingly, compellingly--Patrick is finding his role. Right until the end he flings himself headlong down the dark road his character takes, until (view spoiler)[Though it seems extremely unlikely that an antique gun's powder would still ignite after so many years, especially after Peter checked the guns, it's Forest's genius that she gets past that lightly to the emotional aftereffects. Shocking tragedy is averted totally by accident, so quickly that not all seem to realize how very close they came to it, and the story is far more interesting that it didn't happen, that we see the emotional consequences as (hide spoiler)] the game comes to an abrupt end.
"I know," said Ginty, who had also suffered Wordsworth the previous term. "'Forget the glories he hath known. And that imperial palace whence he came.'"
"That's us," he said sadly. "Just."
She saw what he meant: and they walked on silently, the cloud shadows sweeping over them, until Ginty said a little desperately, "So what are we going to do now?" He said again listlessly that he didn't know. But even he saw they must do something, and they halted momentarily, looking about them, trying to think of something--anything--they could do which hadn't the blight of ordinary, everyday life all over it. Here they failed, but as both came to realize, after an interval of suggestion, rejection and counter-suggestion, from now on, ordinary, everyday life would have to serve.
I went to look at reviews online. Some profess themselves surprised at Antonia Forest condemning RPGs. And at first I thought she was going there as well, in particular during the long conversation in which Karen pours such scorn on the Brontes for their childish games persisting, to their detriment, into their adult years.
But I don't think that's where this book went so much as acknowledging that exploration of profoundly important truths and emotions through the medium of a game can carry the same consequences as explorations of those things in real life. A rich imagination, or inner life, is an important part of the delights and dangers of growing up.
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Read information about the authorAntonia Forest was the pen name of Patricia Giulia Caulfield Kate Rubinstein. She was born in North London, the child of Russian-Jewish and Irish parents. She studied at South Hampstead High School and University College, London, and worked as a government clerk and a librarian. Best known for her series of novels about the Marlow family, she published her first book, Autumn Term, in 1948.
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