My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So, where to begin with this?
It’s a book that has, rightly or wrongly, reached an almost mythological status. I remember when it first came out and the mailing list I lurked, somewhat awkwardly on, exploded. My memories of that remain vivid and so, when I picked this up for the reread, I was interested to see what my thoughts were after a fair few years away from it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Chalet Girls Grow Up was the first – and perhaps the only – spin-off title to write the Chalet School as a real world. And I think that’s perhaps where so much of the tension lies. The Chalet Girls Grow Up is not a relaxing book. It’s not particularly positive, nor is it comforting (at least, not initially). Bad things happen. Lots of them. Remember that Oprah episode where she gave away cars to her audience? “You get a car! And you get a car! And you!” I was reminded of that whilst reading. “You get sad! And you! And you!”
The thing is, Williams writes well. She borders on pastiche at some points which is inevitable considering the nature of the beast, but her language and her turn of phrase is quiet, solid and undeniably poetic at points. It’s a shame that that is quite often lost during the emotional reactions that surround this book. That’s not to say that those reactions are unwarranted. I understand how people can dislike and loathe this book for it is, quite clearly, the Chalet School in its bleakest hour. People die. Lots of people die. There’s divorce, miscarriage, affairs, sadness, joys, suicide, impromptu caresses under the pine trees and sad, loveless marriages a plenty.
There’s life, really, real life, but that’s something the Chalet School never really let happen. And I think, in a book of this nature, the fact that it is so very bluntly darkly real, will always prove troublesome. Williams quite mercilessly pulls the series out of the rose-tinged bubble it can undoubtedly occupy at points and it fascinates me as to the rationale behind the book at this point. Her relationship to the series feels spectacularly complex. And angry. And yet, vividly, warmly, loving.
I think, perhaps, it’s possible to be in love with something and hate it all at the same time.
I’m grateful to @anicecupoftea for helping me formulate my ideas on the above point.
So would I reccommend you read this? Yes, I think I would. Because loving something is one thing, but understanding how that love can be interpreted by others, how that love can be filtered through the experience of the individual, will always, but always, enhance and bring a new level of understanding towards your own relationship with the series.
Plus, if Williams has done nothing else, she has written perhaps the best and most appropriate version of Reg ever seen in the Chalet World.