Those who travel frequently say that when you go on holiday you should take half the clothes you think you'll need and twice the money you expect to spend. I'm not sure what the formula is for books - I always imagine I'll have more time than usual in which to read but it works out that I never do.
However, my week away saw one book finished (and more of that on Saturday), one begun, and a third read straight through. Although I was sitting comfortably in a Swiss chalet, my book took me to a Cambridge college, the fictional St. Radegund's, scene of Rosy Thornton's most excellent novel Hearts and Minds. This was a book to be savoured: intelligently written, neat and cleverly thought out, peopled with well-rounded characters dealing with both personal and professional dilemmas.
The all-female St. Radegund's breaks with tradition and appoints a male Master, former BBC foreign correspondent and executive James Rycarte, who must follow the redoubtable Dame Emily Froud and take the college forward despite dwindling finances and heavy demands on resources. The strong feminist element within St. Rad's opposes James and his plans and sets out to undermine his leadership, but he finds a staunch ally in Senior Tutor Martha Pearce. Martha's loyalty to the college is tested by her personal problems - a daughter, brilliant but depressed, who has dropped out of school, a husband whose poetry writing comes before his academic and family commitments and an elderly mother whose health is failing. With her college post nearing its statutory conclusion, Martha's professional future is also uncertain.
Setting the book in such an institution gives it a particularly clear structure, and the personal and political nature of academic life makes for a fascinating contemporary story. It has romance, wit, a keen sense of pertinent issues and is written very engagingly. I loved it and I recommend it highly.