Boarding schools in fiction, however perilous, are usually enjoyable and exciting places, but there has always been a shadow side to the genre: some people, in life and literature, are just not suited to these establishments. Charlotte Mendelson’s teenage heroine, Marina Farkas, is one such. She has made a terrible mistake in coming to Combe Abbey, a co-ed in Dorset where girls are only admitted in the sixth form and remain an afterthought. (One of the school bulletins announces the ‘23rd Boys Dangerhouse Run and the 1st Girls Dangerhouse Run’.) Marina, dark, short and ‘browy’ (one character likens her to Frida Kahlo), cannot fit in with the hearty, counties types around her. The title suggests that it is her irredeemably non-Anglo-Saxon parentage that marks her out as strange, but thankfully this is no hackneyed tale of the beastly upper classes.
Marina’s family wants her to study medicine and take sciences; she feels drawn to culture, literature and art. Home is a London mansion block where, after the desertion of her Hungarian father, Peter, she lives with his elderly mother, his two aunts, and her own mother, Laura. In Vestminstair Court