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When PorterGirl becomes the first female in 600 years to work as a porter in Old College, she’s expecting to face her share of old-fashioned prejudice and to have to learn all the quirky traditions of this venerable institution. But she soon finds there are dark secrets in the College’s history – secrets that even today some members of the Fellowship of the College are desperate to keep hidden. And, having an inquisitive nature and a background as a police officer, PorterGirl soon finds herself deeply embroiled in the shady goings-on that… er… go on behind these hallowed walls. As danger begins to dog her footsteps, it’s just as well there’s no shortage of tea and sausage sandwiches to keep her spirits up!
The Secret Diary of PorterGirl began life as a blog, and frequent visitors here will doubtless recognise PorterGirl as one of my delightfully witty regular commenters. I’ve been a follower and fan of Lucy’s blog for a long time now and was delighted to hear that she had compiled her blog stories into book form. Obviously, since we’re blog buddies and friends, you will have to assume some bias in this review, but I will try to be as honest as I can.
Lucy began her blog when, in real life, she left her job as a police officer and went to work at a college in one of our oldest and most prestigious Universities in the role of Deputy Head Porter. As with any ancient institution, the real ‘Old College’ is awash with traditions, some of them inspiring and others that seem a little more, shall we say, esoteric. Having always written for her own pleasure, Lucy began to blog about her experiences and, as the blog gained a following, gradually started to embellish the already strange truth of college life with some even stranger storylines of her own invention. The book is a compilation of the blog entries, though Lucy has made some changes to pull it together into a more structured form.
In the early chapters, the bloggy origins of the book show through as PorterGirl tells us about her first days in the new job, and introduces us to some of the characters who grow and develop as the book progresses. PorterGirl is one of life’s sunny enthusiasts with a keen observational eye for the humour in any situation and some of the set pieces are a delight. The inaugural meeting of the Committee for the Prevention of Drunken Behaviour, for example, held unfortunately on a day when PorterGirl is herself somewhat hungover, is comic joy as she listens with growing apprehension to the Fellowship’s plans for dealing with drunken students by having porters put them into the recovery position and attempt to ensure they remain conscious…
“What if the drunkard is a girl?” the Dean continues. “We can’t have our Porters wrestling drunk young ladies to the floor and forcing them to lie on their sides. Think of our reputation!”…
“I think” I say as politely as I can “that if the person is upright and able to physically fend us off they are not in need of urgent medical attention… I feel trying to force them onto the ground, male or female, will only inflame the situation.”
“That is one way of looking at it,” says Senior Tutor. “But I think it should be thought about. It would be easier to prod them repeatedly from the recovery position.”
As the plot begins to thicken, it takes on the tone of a somewhat spoofed Dan Brown story (though some might say Dan Brown’s books read like spoofs of Dan Brown books!), full of secret societies, mysterious symbols and ancient traditions. What stops it from becoming too much is the character of PorterGirl herself – level-headed and competent, she steers a path of relative sanity through the maze of strange happenings and odd behaviour of her increasingly caricatured characters. The humour stays strong throughout and as PorterGirl begins to develop affection for her colleagues, so does the reader. But there are also some quite touching scenes, such as PorterGirl’s burgeoning friendship with the elderly Professor K, and some well-written action scenes towards the end as PorterGirl gets close to the truth and begins to run into danger. These changes of tone add depth and contrast to the overall effect.
Biased I may be, but I think this is a great début. The structure is a little unbalanced with the change from journal type early chapters on the role of the Deputy Head Porter to a full on mystery adventure in the second half, but this is due to the way the book originated and doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment. Now that Lucy has established her characters and the world of Old College the possibilities are endless, and I look forward to seeing how her style develops in the future. Something to read when the world feels grey and a little laughter is required to brighten the day!