Wednesday, October 27, 2010

{reviews} it happened in arles

Mabel Esther Allan It Happened in Arles (1964)


Another much loved, much re-read book. My copy was 30 cents from my old high school's library sale. A young English girl, on the cusp of adulthood, goes to visit her cousin in Arles and discovers mystery, intrigue and romance. 
Sitting there, the past was strangely, heavily upon me, and it was so all the time I was in Arles. The vague menace of ancient history seemed to rise up from the stones everywhere I went, but later I got it mixed up with a menace that was much more modern.
Mabel Esther Allan was a prolific writer (see here, here, here) of children's stories filled with well-mannered decent young English/Scot/Manx boys and girls who go on holidays (or to school or ballet lessons) and encounter adventures which test their character and from which they emerge strong and morally reinforced. There are lots of nice frocks, gloves and sensible but pretty sandals. The protagonists have lovely and unusual names: in this case, Damaris Cleveland. Tourist sites are rarely dirty, over-priced or filled with undesirables. Beds don't have bugs. The food is always plentiful, although it may be strange to English tastes. Taking a photo takes a long time (and you have this amount of time, since travel is leisurely). And sometimes you take a photo of a murder... 

This is what happens to lovelorn Damaris Cleveland as she whiles away her time in Arles (her cousin having conveniently broken her foot) and very soon she is being pursued by French gangsters, her room is robbed, her host family's son is arrested and she encounters a brave young Englishman named Thomas who saves her life.

I visited Arles in February and it was just as beautiful as Allan's descriptions. I thought to myself that one day I would return and stay for a month. Sadly I don't think there are enough months to spare to spend one everywhere I fall in love.



This book appeared in 1964 and it gives one a pang of sorrow to think of how brutal and ugly the close of that decade (and that which followed) would be. You can't picture a Mabel Esther Allan heroine at Altamont.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked this... I notice that fidra books are republishing some of Allan's books but I have not had one in my hand to assess the quality. I have Two in the Western Isles (1956) somewhere to read. If you like this sort of genre, I'd recommend Rumer Godden's The Greengage Summer (review here).

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