‘End of Term’, Part Seven

Chapter Nine: Right Way Round

The narrative point of view in this book is all over the place, in a way that would exasperate most of the editors I’ve worked with. While the story is mostly told from Nicola’s perspective, it’s not uncommon for the reader to find herself suddenly inside the head of a completely different character for a single paragraph (for example, look at the end of Chapter One, when there’s an abrupt and unnecessary change to Ann’s point of view, before it swaps back to Nicola for the final two paragraphs). But I think Antonia Forest chose well when she decided the Nativity Play should be seen (mostly) through Patrick’s eyes. He knows enough about the people in this chapter (those on-stage and off-stage) that it’s not too confusing for him, but we get extra insight into them from his outsider’s perspective. He also understands more about the religious story than many of the participants – certainly more than Lawrie, and even many readers (for instance, I had only the vaguest notion about St Stephen before reading this).

Anyway, this chapter starts with the Merrick family arriving at the Minster to watch the play. Daks has been rescued from Esther’s house and is curled up happily in their car, waiting to be transferred to the Marlows. The Merricks sit up the front of the packed Minster (Three thousand people! No wonder Esther was terrified!) beside Mrs Marlow, Madame Orly, Karen and Rowan. Patrick is shocked when the exquisite voice leading the choir procession turns out to belong to Nicola, although not half as shocked as Nicola’s grandmother (“Surely not”, she keeps muttering, even when Nicola’s walking right past her). Patrick’s also impressed by the Reading Angel, until he realises it’s Evil Lois and then he thinks:

“…how queer it was that what people were like had no connection whatever with what they could actually do. Like Coleridge: like Mozart: and now here was this dire twerp of a Lois Sanger…”

At this point, Rowan and Patrick chivalrously give up their seats to some querulous old women, but luckily find their way to the empty gallery, where they can look down the central aisle to the whole scene and give us a lovely description of what’s going on. Patrick is impressed by Miranda, an unmoving falcon-angel who reminds him of Regina, and by Ann’s serenity, and by the sight of dear idiotic little Sprog being carried in by the King’s page.

But it’s Lawrie who steals the show playing the youngest shepherd, forced by his brothers to guard the sheep instead of visiting the infant Christ, then rescued by the Archangel Gabriel and sent off to the stable, where he gives his only possession, his shepherd’s crook, to the baby, “Lest He too, one day, should be a shepherd”. Lawrie’s performance has lots of clever links back to real-life scenes in the book, most clearly when Lawrie decides not to weep noisily in disappointment as the stage directions say, but to use the “pit-bottomed blackness” she’d felt when she discovered Nicola was to be Shepherd Boy:

“But she knew how she’d behaved: she remembered perfectly how she’d put her hands over her face; she’d rehearsed it quite often in her bath cubicle.”

Even Rowan gets choked up at this scene. Of course, being Lawrie, she’s completely aware of how good she is in the role, running up to see Patrick and Rowan when she’s not on stage and gloating about Esther’s absence and how it’s “maddening I didn’t know in time to invite Ellen Holroyd”, her theatrical mentor. As Rowan says, Lawrie really is a ghastly child.

We get some glimpses of Nicola’s viewpoint – her relief that Sprog is behaving himself on stage, her sudden terror when the entire congregation rises to its feet in place of applause, then her deep breath as she prepares to sing her final solo:

“Try to sing it with regret,” Dr Herrick had said. “Once in Royal David’s City. Not now, you see. Now we have only been pretending. But once, long ago, if only we’d had the luck to be there, once, just once, this thing really happened.”

Nicola, for the first time, manages to do it as he asked, and there’s a lovely description from Patrick of her “immaculate succession of notes, lifting and drifting among the soaring pillars and arches as he had seen thistledown lift and drift one evening in the watermeadows, floating away at last above the trees”. Patrick watches her silent, brief conversation with Miranda and muses how different people can be in different situations, “as if everyone had a spoonful of chameleon blood and changed colour a little, depending on their companions.”

Chapter Ten: And After

Afterwards Mrs Marlow does the usual Marlow thing, refusing to acknowledge how amazing her daughters were, but fortunately Mrs Merrick is there to praise Ginty’s beauty, Ann’s sincerity, Lawrie’s acting skills and Nicola’s singing. Mr Merrick reminds Mrs Marlow he has a puppy for her and Mrs Marlow has quite a lot to say about Nicola’s “frightful impudence” in asking him to collect Daks. Mr Merrick kindly points out that Nicola asked for a favour, rather than ordered him, and it was all to help Esther. None of the adults are very impressed with Esther’s “neglectful mother” (there is no mention of Esther’s even more neglectful father). Finally, Mrs Merrick asks if Madame Orly, who’s been strangely silent, is all right and Mrs Marlow explains that it’s just that her mother is in shock that her “grand-daughters could be anything but a grubby nuisance”.

Meanwhile, Nicola and Miranda are discussing how the play went as they walk back through the silent, snowy grounds. They think Lawrie was excellent (“Of course, Lawrie is frightened of lots of things. I suppose that’s how she knew.”) and Miranda says she enjoyed being in the play, once she got over her initial terror, but that the whole Christmas story seemed so unbelievable:

“And then it seemed so queer, that p’raps that was the reason people believed it … I mean, it’s either complete nonsense, or else it’s so unlikely, it would have to be true.”

I don’t see why things being extremely unlikely make them more believable, but then, that’s why I’m a sceptic and an atheist. Earlier Miranda had explained her family wasn’t Orthodox, but even if she’s from a Reform Jewish background, presumably she does believe in a God and follows some ‘God-ordained’ rules. Hopefully there’ll be more about this in future books, because Miranda’s such an interesting character.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and a furious Miss Keith is waiting for them. She thanks Miranda for her help but “shall, of course, be writing to your father to explain” (why not Miranda’s mother?) and orders them all to see her in her office on Monday. Blood for breakfast! But Nicola’s natural optimism comes to the rescue:

“…after all, Monday was a long way off, and Thursday and end-of-term, by some curious converse, really quite near. And after that came Christmas. So it couldn’t be too awful.”

THE END.

And a big happy sigh from me. This has been my favourite Marlow book so far. I liked the first school book, but this took it to a new level, with such clever plotting and complex characterisation and thoughtful observations on life and lots of humour. Now I just have to wait for Girls Gone By to publish the next book.

You might also be interested in reading:

‘End of Term’ by Antonia Forest
‘End of Term, Part Two
‘End of Term’, Part Three
‘End of Term’, Part Four
‘End of Term’, Part Five
‘End of Term’, Part Six

21 thoughts on “‘End of Term’, Part Seven”

  1. I’m sorry this is over, I’ve really enjoyed following your read-through over the holiday period and seeing the book through the eyes of someone reading it for the first time. How long will we have to wait for ‘Peter’s Room’?! (I’ll post you my copy if you want to borrow one!)
    The shifting narrative viewpoint is actually one of my favourite things about Forest. That little bit about Ann is a great example, where she admits to herself that maybe she had fussed unnecessarily and the reader gets a glimpse of her character. Modern editors might not like it, but modern editors are responsible for an awful lot of rubbish – well, some of them anyway!

    1. I can’t edit my original comment but I’ve just realised that I was thinking about a different bit about Ann. But I like the bit you mentioned too, especially the fact that things rarely go wrong when Ann is in charge of them – so she beats herself up disproportionately when they do – and how it is different being in charge of family rather than just people.

    2. Thanks for all your comments, Ann. I just went looking for a copy of Peter’s Room and the cheapest second-hand copy is about $90 … so I think I’ll be waiting for Girls Gone By to release a new edition! It would be nice to buy an edition that matches my other Marlow books.

      Regarding that Ann bit, I think any competent writer (and Antonia Forest was far better than competent) could manage to hint at Ann’s thoughts while still staying in Nicola’s perspective AND it would show Nicola’s increasing maturity and ability to empathise. But I think the insistence on consistent point-of-view in children’s/YA books might be a modern thing.

  2. ‘Peter’s Room’ is my special personal favourite – one of those books where you think, this was written just for me.

    The Patrick POV works superbly. I wonder if Lawrie was thinking of Marie when she played the Shepherd Boy, or if it was an unconscious choice? (Sadly there’s no evidence that Lawrie’s acting insight ever translates into greater empathy for real people.)

    I think the changing points of view is one of the elements that lifts Antonia Forest to another level, though in the hands of a lesser writer it could get confusing and annoying. Can’t remember where I saw an analysis of Forest’s writing — her sentences can be very convoluted, or at least very structurally sophisticated — this person felt that while an advanced reader can relish this complexity, it could be off-putting for a less experienced reader and this might be partly why Forest’s books fell from view. Maybe they are an acquired, ‘grown-up’ taste — like oysters?

    1. I’m interested to read Peter’s Room but I suspect I won’t like it quite as much as you, because firstly, I don’t like Peter and secondly, I’m not a super-big fan of fantasy (and I’ve seen this book described as fantasy). So we’ll see…

      I was thinking that Laurie was considering herself as the poor, downtrodden youngest sibling!

      I think Antonia Forest’s writing style is sophisticated, but so are the topics she chooses to explore. However, I also wonder if the books became off-putting because of the snobbishness. There was a bit less of that in this book, compared to previous ones, but she’s not one of those warm, inclusive storytellers like Noel Streatfeild, who made a point of celebrating ‘ordinary’ children who worked hard, rather than born-to-greatness Marlow types. Antonia Forest seems to glory in elitism, and I can see that might have become less appealing in the 60s and 70s.

      1. It’s not really about Peter, though – it’s mostly a Nicola book, but with the same shifting POV that you get in End of Term. And a lot of it is about Nicola not liking fantasy while everyone else does. It’s uneven, I think. There are bits of Peter’s Room that I sort of skim, but there are also chapters that I think are the best writing Forest ever did.

  3. The elitism is definitely a problem. What modern teacher or childrens’ book critic is going to recommend books about an upper-middle class, land-owning family who own ponies, go to private school and take part in blood sports; not to mention all being talented, sporty, A-form types. They can’t even be sold as period pieces, unlike Noel Streatfield’s books about the two-servant-poor, because AF moved the time-frame with each book.

    Don’t be put off Peter’s Room. It’s not fantasy really, and although Peter is in it, it’s not mostly about him.

  4. I shall have to check, but I might have a spare copy of Peter’s room. Or could you borrow a copy through inter library loan? Even you equivalent of the British Library would be cheaper than a 2nd hand copy. And Peter’s Room definitely is not fantasy in that nothing ‘fantastical’ ie unexplained/out of this world happens. They take their inspiration from the Brontes. It is one of my favourites (after Cricket Term). Having thought, it may be the Thuggery affair I have a spare copy of, but a lot of my books are still packed, having moved recently. I just made sure I had one copy of all
    AF books near at hand.

    1. Thanks, Sue. I’ll investigate the library option. I also live close to some good second-hand bookshops that don’t usually put all their stock online, so I’m sure I’ll track down a reasonably-priced copy eventually. Hope your unpacking goes smoothly!

  5. I actually moved in with my new partner 2 years ago, but a lot of stuff is still in boxes as there is no-where for it yet. We need to redecorate throughout then can put shelves up etc, but it is taking a while as we also have a large neglected garden to sort out which has taken priority! And we have a time-consuming hobby (church bellringing) so don’t get much time to work on the house but we do need to get started soon

  6. When the time comes, I have spare copies of Thuggery and Attic Term that I can send you if you like.

    But Peter’s Room is too precious to lend! I think GGB might be the best bet — not too long to wait, hopefully.

    (As for fantasy, I actually think it’s more fun to write than to read… which is one of the points of the book, perhaps!)

    1. Thanks, Kate, but I’m sure Girls Gone By will eventually publish them all and I’ll get to have a row of nice, matching Marlow books!

      I don’t dislike ALL fantasy, but it has to have lots of humour for me to get through more than a few pages of it. I once confessed to a room full of children’s/YA librarians that I didn’t like Narnia and there was an audible gasp of horror.

      1. Have you read any Diana Wynne |Jones? Fantasy at its best with plenty of humour. Witch Week is about the funniest, or The Ogre Downstairs. The ‘fantasy’ in Peter’s Room is not really fantasy as supernatural – it’s really a sort of make-believe

  7. This is getting ahead, but the ‘fantasy’ sections of Peter’s Room are interesting for what they reveal about the characters who are creating them — it’s cleverly done eg Nicola (who is a reluctant participant) has a character who does the bare minimum! I know some people skip the fantasy bits completely, and you can do that, but I find them interesting. Anyway, they are quite short! 🙂

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