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'Last Night I tried to climb the Matterhorn again',
This review is from: When Nights Were Cold: A literary mystery (Hardcover)
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Susanna Jones opens her fourth novel with a line that is reminiscent of Rebecca (Virago Modern Classics) but which takes us into the world of mountaineering. The narrator's dream is both a foreshadowing and a memory as this novel moves between a timeline in which old Grace lives in her Dulwich family home with just a maid and some lodgers and 1904 in which she is a teenage playing Antarctic explorations with her father. Grace is obsessed with Ernest Shackleton and it is perhaps these games that give her the strength to leave home to study at a woman's college, in sharp contrast to her sister who is unable to take up her place at the Royal College of Music - essentially because she is a girl and therefore wanted at home.
The set up is fascinating and Jones is masterly in her creation of pre World War 1 education the world at a college bearing a strong resemblance to Royal Holloway. The women call each other by their surnames, they are serious about their work and their honour must not be besmirched by dalliances with men. Grace sets up the Antarctic Exploration Society and recruits three women who represent other facets of Edwardian womanhood. This part of the novel is exciting as thery determine to become Edwardian lady mountaineers, led by the haughty Cecily Parr. Indeed, for three quarters of the novel I was completely engaged. Unfortunately, the last quarter doesn't live up to the rest of the novel and left me somewhat disappointed.
Jones is excellent at characters who are damaged under the surface and she plays with the reliability of our narrator - though not fully successfully. However, there is much to enjoy in her evocation of these intrepid women and their paths to independence and adventure.