My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m so intermittent with the Abbey Girls that it always takes me a moment to orientate myself and figure out where I am in the series. Is Maidlin old or young? Is Joy a muppet or vaguely appealing? Is Mary Dorothy around and just which cook called Anne is it? Has Rosamund had her ‘fifteen children within two weeks’ yet?
Having orientated my way through that period of adjustment, I then always find the Abbey books a little – saturated. I’m not sure that’s the best way to describe them, and I’m very certainly not meaning that they’re damp, so let me try to explain what I mean. Perhaps another word will show itself as I do so. My heart belongs with the raw edge of the Chalet School, that moment where it could be searing or hideous; the unfinished moment of books that teeter wildly on the edge of brilliance or fall into utter tedium. There’s not much of an in between in Brent-Dyer’s world; these books are wonderful and they are lovely or they are Althea.
The Abbey books don’t have that unfinished edge for me. They’re rounder, and glossier, but they don’t have that sense of trepidation. That nervous unknown edge of what might lie behind the corner. That’s what I mean by saturated; it’s all too bright, too colourful. It’s a world without fear, without edge. Maybe that’s because of the books I’ve read, and the way I’ve read them. Journey toward literature often means as much as the literature itself.
But then, here I am recommending a book that makes my theoretical side twitch, that makes all of that that I have spoken about come forth, here I am giving it five stars and here I am about to rave about the very things I have marked out as problems. Maid of the Abbey is lovely. It’s gorgeous. If it were a Friends episode, it would be The One Where Maidlin Gets Married Off And Everything Is Perfect. Oxenham has this great unease with letting her gifted and talented characters exist in isolation (something I wrote about, slightly rubbishly, aeons ago here). Marriage is the ultimate goal, in this world defined by women and inter-female relationships, and it makes me itch but I don’t care here, because this book is lovely.
Oxenham writes with just a wildly entrancing verve; this is a thick slice of cake and slippers by the fire sort of a book. It’s just good, comforting, warm literature. I loved it. I really did. And I think Maid Of The Abbey shows that skill at its best; Maidlin is married off, yes, and we all fawn around Joy for reasons I am yet to figure out, but we do all of this because the writing is so convinced that this is the best thing for these characters. Authorial drive. Love, really. And to go against that, to stand up against that sheer tide of certainty and rich, delicious, writing – I can’t. Not now. Not today.