A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
“You SHALL go to the ball … !”
I don’t know one end of a pair of skis from the other. Actually – I lie. The front is the end that sticks up – right?
The Chalet Girl – Kate Lace’s first book for Headline’s Little Black Dress imprint – is not therefore a title that would normally have attracted my attention when I was looking for some recreational reading. It came highly recommended however, so I gritted my teeth and … well … therein lies a lesson that I really should have learnt years ago. It’s a tired and clichéd lesson involving books and covers, so I won’t bore you with it.
The Chalet Girl is in fact a modern fairy tale. To be precise, it’s Cinderella. Millie Braythorpe (the eponymous chalet girl) and her mother Hannah both get a shot at being Cinders, Luke Hastings is Prince Charming, there’s a veritable gaggle of Fairy Godmothers and an interesting piece of cross-gender casting in the role of The Wicked Sister. There’s even a ball, a pair of glass slippers (oh – all right, they’re actually strappy sandals …) and a fairytale ending.
The ending, I have to say, is never in any serious doubt. From the moment when we – through Millie’s eyes – see Luke’s orange-waterproof clad back, it’s a dead cert. As is nearly always the case with the best romantic novels, the plot is almost secondary. It’s how much fun the journey is that keeps you reading … and this journey is a real winner. In fact, I’d even go so far as to use another well-worn cliché and say that it’s a page-turner – because it truly is.
Written with a surprising amount of grit, The Chalet Girl isn’t always completely comfortable reading. The language is robustly unflowery in places and the characters talk the way people really DO talk in the real world. The chapter where we learn why and how Millie became a chalet girl is written with a poignancy that frankly startled me.
Knowing nothing at all about the skiing scene, I was fascinated by the whole business of ski holidays, chalets, ski passes and chalet girls. The descriptions of the community that circulates around the alpine villages in winter are vivid.
There’s a big dose of humour to help the story along, too. Kate Lace has a truly wicked way with a one-liner. I splurted coffee over the tablecloth in a genteel tea room in the Lake District because of it – doing very little for my standing in the local community.
Refreshingly, there’s an interesting second storyline too, involving Millie’s mother, who starts as a cold, distant and unseen presence, then half way through is unexpectedly fleshed out to become a main player and a rather engaging character for whom I guarantee you will be cheering.
The Chalet Girl is a thoroughly enjoyable read … even if you don’t know one end of a pair of skis from the other. (Just remember – “up”.)
Little Black Dress. 2007. ISBN 978 0 7553 3831 3. 312pp.