‘The Swiss Summer’ by Stella Gibbons was just one of the books reissued by Dean Street Press recently, as part of the Furrowed Middlebrow Collective.
In the absence of any real summer holidays this summer, buying a copy of ‘The Swiss Summer’ seemed the best ticket to booking a summer holiday of armchair travel to a favourite country, in the heart of the Swiss Alps.
This summer holiday in Switzerland did not disappoint – let me tell you that in advance.
‘The Swiss Summer’ is set in the Grindelwald-Interlaken region of the Swiss Oberland, famed for its proximity to the giant peaks of the ethereal Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger. The story begins in the aftermath of the Second World War. The story is told through the eyes of a forty year old married woman called Lucy Cottrell. Lucy is tired of her busy life in London as the wife of an insurance agent, with its rush of social events and people. So when, a chance encounter with Lady Dalgleish, a woman owning a Swiss Chalet opens up an opportunity to spend a few weeks in this idyllic spot, Lucy jumps at the opportunity. The main reason for her visit is to act as an assistant to Freda Blandish, Lady Dalgleish’s companion, to catalogue Lady Dalgleish’s husband’s vast library of books and artifacts. However, what starts off as a secluded blissful holiday is converted to an uproarious holiday lodge with a crew of weird and wonderful characters.
Though the loss of complete peace and quiet is a loss for Lucy, the people who stay at the Chalet Alpenrose form close bonds and forge friendships that will last them a lifetime. The book discusses issues such as childlessness, parenting, the breaking up of class structure in Britain in the aftermath of WW2, class sensibility and the way the British tourist was viewed by native Europeans, first love and the ideal of marrying for love versus money. It’s a lovely book – but to my mind – the wonderful sense of place in ‘Swiss Summer’ was the highlight of the book.
From the moment that Lucy views the ethereal vision of the silvery peak of the mountain Silberhorn, from her bedroom window she is mesmerised and she subsequently takes us along on her many many walks and trips to the surrounding countryside. Sometimes, it reads better than a tourist guide book. Here are actual locations and tourist spots to be read about and savoured. And they are written in the masterful storytelling style of Stella Gibbons.
“For a long time she stared up into the clouds, and presently it seemed to her that at one point the grey was changing colour… And while she watched, with eyes refusing to believe in so much beauty granted to this world, the clouds as fleetingly began to drift across it again and it went in and was hidden. It was the Silberhorn.”
Many more trips to the peak of the Jungfrau, a trip to a mountain ridge named the Harder, rising high above the river Aare via funicular railway, to a ridge of the Augustmatthorn where wild ibex abound, a visit to the Aare Gorge, multiple trips into Interlaken and so much more – ‘The Swiss Summer’ has a wealth of opportunities for virtual travel.
Perhaps, I will take this book out each summer and take a little virtual trip to the Oberland. This is a book to treasure and read again and again.