Vulpes Libris

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.

The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

chaletPadraig Rooney’s chatty wander through Swiss history and geography in The Gilded Chalet runs through a lifetime of reading, raking together all the interesting facts he’s collected about Switzerland and literature, whether relevant or not. The subtitle – Off-Piste in Literary Switzerland – sets the tone, aspiring to puns below the belt, and looks at literary lives. The chapters gobble up all stray celebrities in reach, leaping between the centuries to include all available anecdotes with the slightest relevance to the theme. If you can tolerate the ricochets in register, moving from high academic to street slang in the same paragraph, it’s a fine bedtime read for dipping into. There is no particular order within the chapters, except a general sense that Rousseau precedes the Shelleys and Byron, Thomas Mann and Isabel Eberhardt, and that the anarchists and Russian revolutionaries come before D H Lawrence, James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald, Patricia Highsmith, Nabokov, Ian Fleming and John Le Carré. Rooney’s international sense prevents this from being a ring-fenced Anglophone study, since he pays proper attention to Swiss literary culture as well. Friedrich Glauser, Hansjörge Schneider, Alex Capus, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Nicolas Bouvier, Ella Maillart, Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Rainer Maria Rilke have their own chapters too.

It’s a well-rounded survey, attractive if you’re looking for racy commentary, personal insights and a sense of modern Switzerland from an ex pat Irish perspective. It also represents years of dedicated work and a focused sense of what Rooney was looking for, in the hundreds of museums and archives that he must have investigated: a truly monumental achievement. Personally, I tired of his narrative style fairly quickly – too knowing, too snap-wittery for my taste – and was reduced to dipping in and out, looking for the extraordinary nuggets of information that simply could not appear anywhere else, and certainly won’t appear in the guidebooks. Never again will I be able to read a news story about millionaires and politicians meeting at Davos without thinking of its dead Victorian tuberculosis patients being whizzed down-slope by toboggan to the cemetery.

Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet. Off-piste in Literary Switzerland (2015, Nicholas Brealey Publishing), ISBN 978-1-85788-636-8, £20 / $29.95.

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher (in no particular order) in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

One comment on “The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

  1. Jackie
    May 4, 2016

    From your description, it does sound like a book to dip into, rather than reading straight through, especially if the author jumps around like that. He sounds a bit smug to take much of in one sitting, yet there would be a lot to learn and I’d like to hear some of the stories he could tell.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



Editorial Policy

The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

Quoting from Vulpes Libris

You are very welcome to quote up to 100 words from any article posted on Vulpes Libris - as long as you quote accurately, give us due credit and link back to the original post. If you would like to quote MORE than 100 words, please ask us first via the email address in the Contact details.


  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
  • %d bloggers like this: