Ruth Ware's 6 favorite books about boarding schools

The best-selling author recommends works by Dorothy L. Sayers, Antonia White, and more

Ruth Ware.
(Image credit: Ollie Grove)

The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer (Girls Gone By e-book, $9).

I've always loved boarding school stories. Midnight feasts; apple-pie beds; the secret language of prefects, cubicles, and dorms — who could fail to be seduced? However, I could see that the reality of life shut up with your school friends 24/7 might not be quite as rosy, and my fascination with the sharp edge of this fantasy fed into The Lying Game. The Chalet School series, set at a British school in Switzerland, was my first step away from the cheeriness of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series. The Chalet School books are poignantly European, and the "Peace League" pledge the girls make at the outbreak of World War II is prescient, political, and genuinely moving.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Vintage, $17).

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Fictional Hampden College, the setting for Tartt's hypnotically compelling "whydunit," is not strictly a boarding school, but the atmosphere of cloistered intensity and suffocating friendship is beautifully evocative.

Frost in May by Antonia White (Virago U.K., $15).

An unflinching look at the darker side of boarding school life. Nanda, the narrator, is sent to a strict Catholic boarding school — a world of codes and rules, where girls sleep with their arms crossed over their chests, ready to meet God.

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey (Touchstone, $16).

I love Tey's work. Her boarding school mystery is a slow build, as the crime doesn't occur until a good way into the book, but by then we are so immersed in this community that the impact is all the more intense.

Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse (Overlook, $20).

This is pure escapism — a boarding school novel by the Jeeves and Wooster author, with an equally unlikely bromance at the heart of it. Mike is a stolid cricketing ace, while Psmith (the P is silent) a flamboyant old Etonian.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Harper, $15).

Set in an Oxford women's college, this is an enormously satisfying read — not just because of its happy ending, but also because of Sayers' pitch-perfect evocation of the febrile atmosphere that breaks out when a poison pen begins to work in the little community.

Ruth Ware is the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood. In The Lying Game, her latest best-seller, four women who have harbored a secret since boarding school reunite after a grisly discovery is made on an English beach.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.