Stranger at St Brides (a school story for grown-ups) is the second in a series by my writing friend, Debbie Young, and here she is really into her stride. Whatever we think of Public (boarding) schools, packed with the local and the overseas offspring of doting parents who can do without their teenage daughters for approximately half a year, in 3 term bites, this one is both homely and hilarious. As fitting in a ‘story for grown-ups’ we see everything from the teachers’ viewpoints, frequently visiting the staffroom where over coffee from the machine (“old faithful” – a rather traditional and ancient one?), chat and speculations over the latest mystery fill the air, and flapjacks satisfy the appetite.
Indeed food – the formal three meals a day – is taken in The Trough, as the dining room is nicknamed. But also, food appears in the wonderful creations proceeding from the domestic science department. In this volume, scrumptious mince pies, and extremely originally decorated Christmas cakes, made by the girls to sell at the Fair. It’s Autumn Term, and as the ‘stranger’ appears, claiming to be the long-lost heir to the estate and inheritor of the stately home which houses St Brides School for Girls, all manner of japes follow. Hallowe’en, Carol Singing, and the Fair provide a backdrop to the fraudster’s attempt to be a convincing rich American from the Deep South. Gemma, our heroine and a young English teacher, her pupils, her colleagues (especially Joe, the also mysterious PE teacher, and Max, the security man,) and event McPhee the Headmistress’s cat, all take part.
Not to give any spoilers away, a book to help you relax and smile, full of endearing characters and a deceptively friendly take on the British tradition of Boarding School.