7 January 2021

The Swiss Summer by Stella Gibbons

 An invitation to spend the summer in a chalet with a view of the Alps.  During this time of lockdown when grocery shopping is now an adventurous outing, such escapism could not be more perfectly timed.  First published in 1951, The Swiss Summer has been reissued by Dean Street Press.  I am delighted.  

Lady Dagleish lives in Waterloo Lodge, a mansion in Barnet.  As a woman of means before her marriage, Lady Dagleish is comfortable in her extravagant surroundings but as an elderly widow she yearns for the company of interesting young people.  Sir Burton Dagleish died before the First World War; still considered a young man in his sixties.  He was widely known for his work in alpine science and was an ardent mountaineer.  In a grand gesture, the Swiss government presented him with a chalet.  Rarely used these days, Lady Dagleish plans to send her housekeeper Mrs Blandish to Switzerland to do an inventory of Sir Burton's books, writings and diaries.  Enter Mrs Cottrell.

While visiting a friend who suggests a visit to Waterloo Lodge, Lucy is intrigued by Lady Dagleish and sighs at mention of the chalet.  She spent her honeymoon in the Alps over twenty years ago and would love to return one day.  Before another cup of tea can be poured, Lady Dagleish makes the suggestion that Lucy accompany Mrs Blandish on her mission.  Surely her husband can spare her three months.....

   "It's on the way up to the Jungfrau, about five hundred feet above the station at Adleralp."  said Mrs Blandish.  "It's quite a climb, and you'll certainly see all the mountains you want.  Do you know Adlerwald?  That's the next station down, and the nearest large village.  At Adleralp there's nothing but one souvenir shop and a darned expensive out-of-date hotel."

Lucy Cottrell and Mrs Blandish book their travel tickets.  Mrs Blandish takes a quick flight but Lucy books economical train travel which makes for an epic adventure in itself.  Greeting her at the chalet is Utta, a woman of advancing years but strong and a stickler for doing things properly.  Utta visits weekly to dust, polish and sweep the chalet, taking great pride in her responsibility.  She doesn't care for Mrs Blandish, at all.  The plot soon pivots from that of a dreamy summer of sightseeing to several women keenly watching each other.  But let's take a moment for a food quote....

   Mrs Blandish's manner this morning was unchanged by the beauty of the view, the fine weather, or even by the large brown eggs, thick honey and rye bread, cherry jam and fresh milk; she had her usual air of self-absorption dashed with good-nature and impatience, and as usual it was impossible for Lucy to tell what she was thinking about.

The cunning Mrs Blandish has her hopes pinned on Lady Dagleish leaving the chalet to her in her Will.  To be fair, Lady D has taken some enjoyment from stringing her along.  Storylines begin to germinate....Mrs Blandish has a side hustle to make extra money by inviting guests to stay at the chalet under the pretext that she is the owner.  Lucy is torn between informing Lady Dagleish and not wanting to get involved.  Then the family Price-Wharton show up with their entitled teenage daughter who has something of a 'frenemy' relationship with Mrs Blandish's daughter Astra.  Eventually the chalet is practically heaving with people causing Utta to grow increasingly unsettled with what she feels is disrespect for Sir Burton's memory and his widow.

I'm very excited that Dean Street Press has reissued several novels from Stella Gibbons' oeuvre.  Her writing contains a wonderful blend of humour and insightfulness that I never fail to enjoy.  In The Swiss Summer, the relationship between Astra, a drifting teenager craving a mother's love, and Lucy who silently mourns her childless state, is incredibly touching.  Even more so for being the calm in a froth of deception at the chalet.  One tiny niggle is a point in the middle of the story where some editing would have tightened it a bit.  I will say the ending was extremely satisfying! 

Thank you to Rupert from Dean Street Press for sending along a copy.  A thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to reading the others!

  

6 comments:

  1. Oh this sounds like a good one! I was kindly sent The Pink Front Door but I am keen to pick up the other ones, such as this.

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    1. I was absolutely tickled when Scott announced more titles by Gibbons, and will be buying the others too. While reading this book I kept thinking that it would make a super play. Not that I know anyone who produces plays or that we can even attend one...

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  2. I ordered this because of 'Swiss' (my sister lives in Switzerland...but I'm happy to see that I'm going to really enjoy it!

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    1. Oh that's wonderful, Audrey....how perfect! You'll enjoy it, I promise.

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  3. I'm so intrigued by this one because of the Swiss setting. The question is now whether to save it for next time I'm vacationing beneath the Jungfrau or to indulge in some armchair travel...

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    1. For the time being it's travel through reading for me, but won't it be exciting to plan a vacation abroad again?

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