I went to the same school as Elfrida Vipont – the city of “Chesterham” in this book is, of course, Manchester – and, like her, went on to study history at university. However, she dropped out of her history course to train as a professional singer, whereas I absolutely loved being a history student and have been told by innumerable people that I’ve got the worst singing voice they’ve ever heard! Music features rather a lot in the book (which wasn’t set very far in the past when it was written, but is a historical novel to the modern reader), which sees the main character, Kit Haverard, brought up by a widowed and rather remote father and a rather bossy and over-organised cousin, “discover” herself and decide that she wants to become a singer.
It is partly a boarding school story, but it’s far more gentle than your typical boarding school story. There are no floods, fires or avalanches; no-one is pushed in the pool fully-clothed, scores a last-gasp winner in a crucial lacrosse match, catches measles just before a big exam or runs away at dead of night; and there aren’t even any cleverly thought-out pranks or midnight feasts. There is one incident involving a burglar, but the burglar cheerfully hands over his loot and runs off as soon as he’s apprehended. It’s also set partly at Kit’s home, and partly at the homes of her great-aunts (wise old lady types) and cousins (cousins do tend to feature an awful lot in these sorts of books, don’t they?). Plus there’s quite a bit of role-playing and running about with friends, in “Thornley”, which is on the outskirts of “Chesterham”. I can’t quite decide where “Thornley” is … Didsbury, maybe? Or possibly Wythenshawe, in pre housing estate times, because there’s mention of an old hall. I must see if I can find out.
Not very much actually happens, there’s a lot of talk about religion, and in many ways it seems more like a Louisa M Alcott or Susan Coolidge book than a book written by a British author after the Second World War; but in other ways it’s a very British coming-of-age story, and it’s a nice, gentle read. I’m not sure how much it would appeal to modern teenagers, but I rather enjoyed it.