Last time I wrote a book review I must have been about 13. And it may well have been The Lord of the Rings, chosen on the grounds that I’d already read it and therefore wouldn’t have to do more than minimum work to complete the assignment. With hindsight this seems perverse since my teachers had more of problem removing books from my vice-like grip than they did encouraging me to read - clearly obstreperousness purely for its own sake.
I don’t recall that the exercise was ever repeated, probably because none of the class had grasped the idea that a book review was supposed to be more than just a rambling synopsis of the plot. I imagine Miss Marshall was well aware of the contents of The Lord of the Rings even if she’d never read it.
So when author and former seasonnaire Alex Thomas offered me the chance to review her first novel I thought it would be rude not to have another stab at it. Come on, how often do you get that sort of second chance?
I should actually have had a copy of the book weeks ago, as the nice people at Illicit Snowboarding promised to send me one, but it seems to have been eaten by the post monster, along with a random part for an antique sewing machine which should have arrived about six months ago.
War and Piste, now that I’ve finally got my mitts on it, is an account of a season’s repping in a thinly disguised St Anton for a large tour op whose blend of corporate bullshit, incompetent management and contempt for staff leads me to believe it might be known collectively by its initials. Though I could be wrong – let’s face it, most of them operate a business model based on sociopathic managers, corporate wank and a policy of treating staff like cockroaches, so it could probably be anybody.
The buzz around the ski websites suggests the book is going down well amongst would-be seasonnaires (which should make for an interesting season for next year’s managers at any rate), and holidaymaking skiers, a bit of a surprise given some of its revelations. You think it’s funny that the chef did a runner on Christmas morning and your dinner consists of stolen turkey inexpertly cooked by the hotel manager and the KP? Really? Bollocks. If I’d known that I would just have admitted to it at the time instead of stressing about people finding out.
Serial seasonnaires will recognise both the endless ridiculous situations (having to ski guide when you don’t ski, being expected to get 65 guests on a 59-seater coach, carting small fortunes round resort in brown envelopes) and the mildly psychotic cast of characters (unstable chef, sexually incontinent hotel staff, manager blatantly only in resort to escape being sectioned), and those of you who abandoned the mountains and sold your souls for a desk job and a now non-existent pension will realise that it was either a) the best thing you ever did or b) a dreadful horrible mistake. Read it if you dare.
As a veteran of far more seasons than is good for me I chortled a fair bit, but I have to say that I found some of it jarring. A company which has its clubhotel managers share accommodation with their own staff? Seriously? And I’m sorry, but any hotel manager as wet as Suzanne would have either been eaten alive by her staff or sent home in a straitjacket within a week. HMs are not the same breed as reps and chalet hosts.
The other credibility-stretching aspect of the story was the idea that someone can progress from nervous snowplough to hitting wind lips and 45° couloirs in two months, with or without the help of a sexy sponsored Swede. Particularly given that the main protagonist is a girl. I know this sounds deplorably sexist, but in nearly 20 years of this sort of thing I must have seen about four female staff who came anywhere near being that serious about their skiing. Or boarding, which brings me to another less than believable point – she quit boarding for skis? In powder? Gerroff.
Apart from that, though, War and Piste is a good read, albeit a bit chick-lit love story. Not that this is particularly a bad thing, but I wouldn’t buy it for the boys (though I wouldn’t put it past them to sneak a read at it when everyone else has finished either). Great stocking-filler for the ski-obsessed girly in your life, and prime material for a cheesy Christmas film if you ask me – if I were Alex I’d be giving some serious thought to touting it around a few studios.
Title: War and Piste
Author: Alex Thomas
Publisher: Traudl Publishing
Get it from: Amazon, £8.99 in paperback and a mere £2.29 on Kindle. Now that’s the sort of price difference we expect to see between a real book and the e-version. Kudos for not ripping the reader off there.