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The Egerton Hall Novels
The Tower Room–Watching the Roses–Pictures of the Night
Adèle Geras
Harcourt, 189, 178 and 184 pages

Adèle Geras
Adèle Geras was born in Jerusalem in 1944 and spent her early childhood in many different countries including Cyprus, Nigeria, and North Borneo and later joined her parents for summer holidays in Gambia and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). She attended boarding school in England (Roedean School, Brighton) and graduated from St. Hilda's College, Oxford in 1966. She has worked as an actress, singer and a teacher of French in a girls' school in Manchester before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. Since then, she has published more than ninety books for children and young adults. A prize-winning poet, her first collection, Voices from the Dolls' House, was published by Rockingham Press. Her first novel for adults, Facing the Light, appeared in 2003; the second, Hester's Story, in January 2005. The Egerton Hall Trilogy consisting of The Tower Room, Watching the Roses, and Pictures of the Night first appeared between 1990 and 1992. She has received a number of awards for her writing, including the Sydney Taylor Award (USA) for My Grandmother's Stories (1991), the National Jewish Book Award (USA) for Golden Windows (1994), the Smith/Doorstop Poetry Pamphlet competition (1987, with Pauline Stainer), and the H.H.Wingate/Jewish Quarterly Poetry Award (1993). Her novel Troy was shortlisted and 'highly commended' for the Carnegie Medal, and a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book in the USA. Mrs. Geras is married with two daughters, one the poetess Sophie Hannah. She has lived in Manchester, England since 1967.

Author's website

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: 1, 2, 3, 4

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1, 2, 3, 4

REVIEWS:
Egerton Hall Series, 1, 2
Ithaka, 1,
Other Echoes, 1, 2
Sleeping Beauty, 1
Troy, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, audio book
Facing the Light, 1, 2
Silent Snow Secret Snow, 1

ONLINE TEXTS BY A. GERAS:
"Plus ça change..."
"Short and Sweet"
"Will You Write a Real Book When You've had Practice?"
"The Process of Writing"
"A Challenge for the Writer"

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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The Tower Room
Watching the Roses
Pictures of the Night
First published between 1990 and 1992, The Tower Room, Watching the Roses, and Pictures of the Night, set around three young women at a British public school [i.e., private school in North America], Egerton Hall, are tenuously based on the well-known fairy tales of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, respectively. Certainly these are no simple retellings of these tales, but stories built around selected elements of the tales, adapted and interpreted in terms of the issues and emotions of young women. The stories are obviously informed by the author's passage through the same educational system at the time of which she writes, lending verisimilitude to the locations and atmosphere of the school. However, these are novels clearly targeted to a young female audience, and while the "soapy romance stuff" wasn't too overpowering, it certainly isn't what a teenage boy would revel in.

The Tower Rooms is the book least closely linked to its folkloric source, being far more a story of young love doomed to failure, along the lines and mood of what one might expect if one updated a Victorian or Edwardian popular romance novel: heroine falls for a scoundrel, makes mistakes, learns by them, is a better (read more moral) woman by it (the Horatio Alger novels being the male equivalent of the time). In The Tower Room a love triangle develops between the orphan Megan (Rapunzel), her custodian -- a science teacher at the school (the fairy), and a young man hired as a laboratory assistant (the prince). While sexual episodes occur, these are imbued with more longing, touching and bliss than any graphic descriptions, and unlike Rapunzel, Megan doesn't bear the consequences of her relationship to full term, but rather becomes a strong emancipated woman when she sheds her overbearing prince. Now, why a man in his early twenties was not watched like a hawk, but was allowed to roam freely about a British all-girls school in c. 1960 is a bit hard to swallow, but The Tower Room does capture the giddiness of a young girl's infatuation.

The following two books are more closely related to their folkloric sources, much darker (most early, unedited versions of fairy tales were plenty dark -- see Opie and Opie's The Classic Fairy Tales Oxford Univ. Press, 1974), and much less about romantic interplay between a couple. In Watching the Roses, Alice's pricking comes not in the form of a spindle, but at the hands of a rapist during her 18th birthday party, at her parents estate, surrounded by rose gardens. As with Lisa in John Marsden's Take My Word for It, the silent withdrawn Alice works through her trauma by writing about it, the rose garden around her being a reflection of the damage to her spirit. The arrival and caring, considerate behaviour of her French boyfriend and pen-pal finally snaps her out of her living death. In this sense, Watching the Roses, -- perhaps more appropriate for older readers than the two other titles -- is perhaps the best of the three in terms of recasting the older tale in a modern context.

In Pictures of the Night the third girl, Bella, is apparently the victim of attempts on her life, and her jealous step-mother, Marjorie, may be behind it. A talented singer, Bella spends her summer in the Bohemian quarter of London with her musician boyfriend and six other band members, all of whom somewhat shield her from danger. But in the end, many elements of the story, including a mysterious white cat, remain dangling, Bella solves her situation to some extent by returning evil for evil, and the three girls end up going off to live happily ever after with their princes, perhaps what one should expect from fairy-tale-derived material, but which seems somewhat at odds with darker nature of the last two books. This leaves this book somewhat weaker than its predecessors, with neither the overt romanticism of The Tower Room, or the sad poignancy of Watching the Roses

Alice's rape in Watching the Roses is well handled, contextual, and while the episode is perhaps better suited to older readers, it didn't really raise my hackles -- this is, after all the 21st century. However, while all the girls are described as having reached the age of majority, the relationships of Megan and Bella with men clearly older than themselves might raise some eyebrows, though certainly nothing exploitative is depicted. Still this element left me, no prude, somewhat uneasy. Similarly, the element of the act of intercourse in The Tower Room, however mildly depicted, seemed to mar the quasi-Victorian æsthetic set up to that point. Yes, I realize young women have been sexually active from well before the Epic of Gilgamesh was put to tablet, but particularly in The Tower Room it just seemed unnecessary. A similar comment: "and yet Geras throws in some very inappropriate sexual content that just bugged me" was used to describe Geras' Troy, and while most other reader/reviewers did not see this as an issue, I feel somewhat vindicated in seeing that I'm not the only one to be uneasy about this element in Geras' work. This said, the books are well written, the characters well depicted, so perhaps they will appeal more strongly and be more appreciated by today's young woman than an old curmudgeon like me.

Copyright © 2005 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.


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