Happy Birthday Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

It’s hard sometimes to quantify the influence that Brent-Dyer has had on my life. Clearly there are the obvious factors, such as my longing for every doctor to be both good in a crisis and rather dashing (and also a solid lump of comfort), and the fact that I now know enough German to order coffee and cakes and that I need to be careful of how much a cup of coffee costs in Swiss stations.

But on a more serious note, I think it’s in the way that she told me that children’s literature could do great and magnificent things.

I believe, very much, in the power of literature. You find your voice through reading. You find yourself through reading. You find yourself and your voice and you find out who and what you can be. I read children’s literature for a long time, but it was only in the past few years that I came to realise, and to be able to verbalise, how important that is.

And that, so much of that, is built on Brent-Dyer and her school of nations, her families of a hundred or more children with different coloured hair and eyes, her St Bernards, her ‘girls which keep falling off of mountains’ and of a voice that spoke in the darkness of world war two of acceptance, forgiveness, and truth.

The Chalet School was a multilingual school. A multi-faith school. A school where girls were allowed to be bold, and brave, and who they were and who they could be. That empowerment still astounds me. The way that Brent-Dyer, even in her painful, tired, last books was so concerned with letting her girls grow up and be strong, confident woman (and not spineless jellyfish).

She has given me so much. She has given me the support to write books about girls. About girls, and about women, and the golden, brilliant, lovely relationships between them. She has given me moments that have still, somehow, never been surpassed in my reading life. She has given me other moments which have made me cry and fold and hunt for my own vibrant orange handkerchief to stem my tears.

This is what a good author can do. Heck, this is even what a bad author can do and Brent-Dyer had her moments of both. This is what an author can do when you connect with them. This is what happens when you read and the gap between the page and you narrows to the extent that

This is why I believe that books are an opener of doors. That they are a gateway to the world and to beyond. This is why I will fight for the right for people to read, and to read what they want. It is for moments like this when I think back to the Chalet School that I dropped in the bath by mistake and patched it back together with tape and panic. It is for moments when I think how a reader can be made. How they can be formed. How they can be built and how they can be helped and how they can be saved, even by a woman who I have never met  and who has been dead for 18,827 days.

We stand on the shoulders of giants, you and I, and it is right to raise a glass every now and then.

Thank you EBD.

Summer Term at the Chalet School : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Summer Term at the Chalet School (The Chalet School, #58)Summer Term at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I need to tell you about somebody I met twenty years ago. I was eleven, but that’s not a problem. I think she’d be the perfect guardian for my child-that-I-have-for-the-purposes-of-making-this-point and so I think I’m going to put it in my will that she’ll look after my child-that-I-have-for-the-purposes-of-making-this-point. I think that sounds like an excellent plan.

Oh heavens, what a ridiculous plan, and yet at this point in the series I accept it for what it is and how perfect it is in the special, special Chalet World we are all privileged to be a part of.

We all know that by this point, the series was tired. And it is, it is so tired, but it’s sort of spectacular in the same breath. Train accidents. Bee swarming shenanigans. Broken feet. Pit-crater thingies. Basically Erica’s been sent to school in some sort of prototype of the Hunger Games, and if she survives her first term then hey, ho, here’s your graduation certificate, girl done good.

There are some lovely moments even amidst all of the madness, and even though I really shouldn’t, I have a soft spot for Joey and Jack in this series. Jack more than Joey, I think, simply for his genuine good chap-ness during the whole Marie-Claire plot.

(And oh, how I love that whole Marie-Claire plot, even though I really shouldn’t).

Essentially I have a lot of love for this book. Even though it alternates between torturous and fantastical and viciously hammy, I love it. Even though I really shouldn’t.

Now where’s my will?

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Carola Storms the Chalet School : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Carola Storms the Chalet School (The Chalet School, #23)Carola Storms the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s interesting to look back at the phases of Chalet School life. We have the glorious idealism of the early Tyrol phase; epitomised in moments such as Madge going, “Well, I thought I’d start a school.” Later in the series, around the war books (say Highland Twins and Lavender in particular), we get some intense and searing social commentary wrapped up in a pseudo-simple girls’ school story. Later still, we get the second (third?) generation of family pupils to attend the school and the whole ‘do you remember when?’ This phase is at times the Swiss ‘Enterprise’ to the Tyrolean ‘Next Generation’ of the Chalet School. That is, to say, not very good.

And here, in Carola, though I’d never quite twigged it before, is Brent-Dyer’s ‘batty relative phase’. There’s a connection now needling at me between the propensity of relatives to be a bit rubbish (Annis’ Aunt, Kat Gordon’s … Aunt, Carola’s whole family) and the way that all the girls concerned decide to take control of their own stories. To be honest there’s now also a connection needling at me about the propensity of Chalet School staff / groupies to hang around in seaside bed and breakfasts but that will wait until I eventually scrape up some dosh to do a phd.

So this book! It’s great because it’s early enough to still have some semblance of plot and that plot is delivered with Intense Verve. Basically: Carola pitches a fit after Biddy of the Lush Irish Hair And Never Fading Accent tells her lovely stories about the Chalet School and then runs off to join it whilst leaving her Aunt on a cruise ship to Jamaica. As new girl stories go, it’s one of the best. (“Has she drowned?” “No, she’s at the Chalet School.” “But we’re in the middle of the sea.” “She’s your relative, Miss Curry, not mine.”)

Carola’s first term is excellent. I always think that the girls who were at the School during the St Briavels phase miss out slightly as their surroundings aren’t quite as dominant as Switzerland or Tyrol. Of course Brent-Dyer works her usual melodramatic brilliance on the Island (There’s a phd in the whole ‘why does Joey keep getting almost / actually shipwrecked’, I think), but somehow it never quite rings true to me. I think perhaps it’s epitomised best in this book where Carola goes to the Maynards’ (naturally) house, and then several chapters later accidentally discovers the house again (“Oh this is Mrs Maynard’s house!” “But of course it is Carola, you’ve already been here you big div”) as she’s walking around the island with Taciturn As All Scottish Characters Are Scottish Jean.

But this book remains lovely and glorious in a way that only a Brent-Dyer can be. I haven’t even begun to mention the epic flame-throwing d’enouement.

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Mary-Lou of the Chalet School : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Mary Lou at the Chalet School (The Chalet School, #37)Mary Lou at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dearest Mama,

I lifted up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my wealth, and I thought lo, it is Alpengluckwhateveritis tonight. The pink and dusky sky made me think of you and your habit of bringing God into *everything* so I thought I would write you and, well, tell you what’s what.

It’s been a bit of an exciting term, really. I don’t think I like everything that’s happened but it has happened in that way things do tend to do so here. Have you ever thought what would happen if things – didn’t? It’s as if we’re at the control of some almighty force that simply propels us to be all a bit batty! (Oh mama, I know what you’re thinking and I don’t mean God, please do focus).

Mama, I know you like Mary-Lou but gosh she does go on. I’m glad she’s okay and everything and I was a bit tremulous over it all but really, to be honest, the peace was lovely whilst she was gone. Jessica and I practically polka’d with relief. And I know that Emmy, even though she’s a big daft thing, feels the same. It’s as if, you know, you’ve got an extra parent! Oh Mama, you and Papa are alright lovely, but really I can barely cope with the two of you and I don’t want a third.

My devil sends you lots of love.
Margot. (Who is NEVER going to send you this!)

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Joey and Co. In Tirol : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Joey and Co. in Tirol (The Chalet School, #47)Joey and Co. in Tirol by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ladies, control yourselves, but this is the book in which Hot Roger makes his debut. Oh, we all know Reg is the official hottie in the Chalet School series (Joey’s first born does, after all, memorably swoon into his arms) but Roger? If ever a book involved a swoonsome debut of a new hero to be, this is that book and Roger is that chap. After all, he prances around the Tiernsee in next to nothing, has some particularly flirtatious moments with all the laydeez(hey Roger let’s swim and then afterwards I’ll check out your scar), and it’s all in all a bit special.

Oh yes, apparently a story also happens.

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