Bride Leads the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have a soft spot for Bride Leads the Chalet School because it’s one of those books where Important Things Happen. This is one of the ways that the Chalet School is almost impenetrable should you enter it at the wrong point. There are books full of the exploits of daughter X of pupil Y who married Doctor Z and Oh No Not That Time When Julie Lucy Had Peritonitis. This is the book in which the latter happens and in a sort of very wrong way, it’s a massive relief to get there at last. After reading “oh no, you don’t want to remind them about the time when poor Ju nearly died” and “Oh she’s going to die because she got hiccups” for what felt like a thousand books, I finally get to read about the saga.
Other things happen in Bride Leads The Chalet School. We’ve lost the wonderfully named Loveday Perowne who gets to go off to the *best* future. We gain the practically legendary Diana Skelton to the school. And even though she’s recycling the school merger plot, Brent-Dyer recycles it to great effect.
What’s also pleasing in this book is being able to see more of the Bettany house. Mollie and Dick Bettany are some of my favourite characters and the sidelining of them to India at the start of the series always feels like I’m being cheated out of them. I love being able to see the Bettany family just being their family. It’s always a pleasure to see Brent-Dyer just ease herself into familial surroundings rather than throwing people off mountains and into crevasses. When she was good, she was very good and caught the relationships between people perfectly. And the Bettany moments are full of that.
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A Genius at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It strikes me as curious that I’ve never actually reviewed this until now. Nina Rutherford is very much a fascination of mine and so this is a book that is very much overdue a review.
Brent-Dyer once wrote a book populated solely by gifted and talented characters (The School by the River). And she did this with great success. The School By The River is a school story with a Ruritanian twist and possesses some of the most attractive characters ever to feature in the school story genre (I’m looking at you Molly). It’s strange then that in her main series, her big life-defining series, Brent-Dyer featured gifted and talented characters with almost palpable reluctance. Of course we have people like Joey, Margia, Jacynth and Nina herself but they are notable in their rarity. The Chalet School was a series built on fitting in and ‘being a real Chalet School girl’ rather than being some icon of God-Given talent. And I think that’s where this book struggles. Nina is so patently a cipher for her talent, a functionary device (have a think about how many of the ‘new girl’ books actually feature their names) that any character development is put quite patently on hold.
And yet I find A Genius At The Chalet School rather remarkable, because Brent-Dyer does something quite strange here. She delivers a plot of glorious linearity but ties herself up in knots through the spectacular un-linear nature of the new girl herself. Nina doesn’t fit in. She can’t and never will. She is a foreign object in a community that does not know how to deal with her and her wild talent.
So yes, this book is pedestrian. Spectacularly, brain dribblingly, so at points. But it’s also fascinating because of the way the Chalet School ideology is displayed, challenged and contravened all due to the presence of this new girl who really is quite unlike anyone else.
Here’s a longer piece I wrote on Nina and genius in the Chalet School series. It elaborates on some of the points mentioned above. Also this is a post I did about the nature of genius and giftedness in the wider GirlsOwn genre.
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Two Sams at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Two Sams at the Chalet School is a book of peaks and troughs and near-unbearable coincidence. So the same old thing really.
Samantha Van Der Byl and Samaris Davies are two new girls at the Chalet School. Although they’re different ages, and in different forms, they’re drawn into being friends with each other FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON. It’s sort of glorious the way Brent-Dyer can’t resist going THERE’S A CONNECTION CAN YOU GUESS WHAT IT IS with them, and then when that connection is revealed it’s sort of glorious how a little part of me dies each time.
Two Sams is also full of some nicely telling ideological moments representative of the series as a whole. I’m always pleased to see the recurrence of Nina Rutherford who is a bit of a fascination of mine, and it’s fascinating to see that the issues Brent-Dyer previously had with writing her are still in situ. I don’t think she ever quite found the same level of comfort with Nina and her ‘extreme’ genius, as she did with somebody like Margia Stevens say, and so Nina remains an awkwardly drawn, and very stiff character.
It’s also interesting to compare and contrast the treatment of Nina in this book with the treatment given to Con Maynard. Con is one of those characters who is never quite allowed to live in the way she’s been written to be. I’ve written more about this here.
As a whole though, Two Sams suffers from a lack of focus. I’m never really sure who we’re meant to root for, whether it’s a good thing that THE MYSTERIOUS CONNECTION is what it is, and whether we’re really meant to care. There are moments when the old Brent-Dyer skills shine (say, with Phil in particular) but as a whole it’s a written by numbers affair. One for completionists and not to be read after Adrienne and the Chalet School otherwise you will collapse from coincidence-overload.
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The Chalet Girls in Camp by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If there was anything that Brent-Dyer was particularly good at, it was shifting tone. She had a skill whereby the farcical could be transferred to the heartbreaking, often within moments on the same page. Whether it was from the Robin singing one of her Raising-Lazarus-esque songs or to Joey hiding behind a curtain in Penny Rest, Brent-Dyer was not afraid of wholeheartedly making her point.
The Chalet Girls In Camp is one of those points. It is fat and round and glorious, glowing with the smile that still echoes in my mind from the toddlers I saw bouncing along the road this morning with their mother. I love this book. It’s one of the most evocative ones she ever wrote, set during a period where the Chalet Girls decamp (badumtish) from the shores of the lovely Tiernsee and head up to the hills to camp in the equally lovely Baumersee.
As it’s still so very early in the series, Brent-Dyer is on fire. She is painterly at points, drawing her landscape with conviction and with passion. There’s moments from this book that live with me forever; the ‘JUST KISS’ moment where Simone whips up a sexy little omelette for her beloved, the moment where Rufus is awesome, and the part where Cornelia goes wood gathering.
It’s books like this that build a series, that pull you to them like moths to a flame. It’s books like this that left me convinced of the cannibalistic nature of Pikes, of the need to loosen guy ropes in the rain, and of the need to not, er, annoy the local insect life.
And it’s books like this that leave me in love with Brent-Dyer and leave me desperate, so very desperate, to go and sing songs around a campfire in the middle of Austria.
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Jo to the Rescue by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
An odd one this, one of only a couple in the series set wholly outside of the school context and as such reading as a sort of curious hybrid of impenetrable relationships stuck in a picture postcard setting somewhere totally alien. Jo To The Rescue is this weird beast, a sort of ode to domesticity wrapped up in the summery surroundings of the Yorkshire Moors and with a tragic, forlorn heroine in need of serious rescuing.
And it’s also the book that introduces Reg. (Reg, Reg, boo hiss Reg and your eternal pantsness).
I’m from the North, from the Yorkshire Moors to be precise, and I have a real loathing of those books that write Yorkshire characters “talkin’ reet lark that ooor pet.” And when they do it in phonetic spelling, then that really really winds me up. Brent-Dyer borders on this previously in the series with the legendary Yorkshire gentleman chatting up Madge on the train in The School at the Chalet, which I can forgive her for due to the spectacular nature of the incident. But it’s an awkward, tentative sort of forgiveness on my part. I remain embroiled in my difficulties with Rescue, dealing as it does with brusque Northerners and homely sensible un-artistic servant folk who don’t quite understand the artistic traumas and fanciful natures of their bosses. It seems so odd to me considering that Brent-Dyer was a South Shields native.
Once I get past this, Jo to the Rescue is really quite charming albeit sprinkled with a healthy level of Chalet School eccentricities. The Robin / Zephyr subplot makes my utter day everytime I read it “I can’t make her be your friend, but I will sort of yes actually make her be your friend”.
There’s also a great pleasure in witnessing the Quartette in their role as grown-ups (of a sort) and I love Simone in particular. She’s always been one of those characters who improved as she grew up.
Jack Maynard makes a healthy appearance, albeit a distinctly eccentric one, which is always a joy. I never stop enjoying his subtle (!) transformation into Doctor-cum-Superhero-cum-patriarch. There’s always been a sense of authorial adoration about Jack Maynard and it’s an adoration wholly present throughout this novel.
And then there’s also romance, which is always a heck of a thing whenever EBD tries it, so frankly this book could sell itself wholly on that.
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