29/11/2010

The New Chalet School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

Having started re-reading the lengthy Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer that I enjoyed in my teens (and have re-read sporadically, but not in order, during adulthood) I find myself dipping into more and more of them.

'The New Chalet School' is fourteenth in the series, and takes place in the summer term. Slightly confusingly, my Armada copy is is the first half of the original hardback 'New Chalet School'. When it was published in paperback in the 1970s, the second half was published separately, and re-named 'The United Chalet School'. I suppose that means that they weren't too abridged, which is a good thing, but it makes the numbering very confusing. Originally it was the thirteenth in the series, because another, earlier book was also divided into two in the paperback editions.

This story begins with the news that St Scholastika's, a nearby girls' school, has been unexpectedly sold. Their Head inherited some money, and has decided to retire, so the girls will be joining the Chalet School. They have been fairly friendly, but inevitably it takes time for them to feel like a single school. A new block will be built during the summer holidays, but in the meantime the school will be rather crowded.

We also learn that Mademoiselle LePattre will not be returning to teaching. She is evidently very ill, although it's never specified what her illness is. Miss Annersley takes over as Chalet School Headmistress.

In addition, the Russells and their extended family have bought the old St Scholastika's building and will be using it as a summer home. And a new guesthouse has opened.. with, among others, some small Italian children who take a dislike to the Chalet School and its owners. Neglected by their father, and with their mother extremely ill at the Sonnalpe sanitariaum, they run rather wild. They start a feud which becomes progressively nastier...

There are almost no run-of-the-mill schooldays in this, which is perhaps why it was impossible to abridge too much. I found the book fast-paced and quite exciting. It's many years since I last read this particular one - probably at least fifteen, maybe more - and I'd forgotten just about everything other than the ending.

Intended for girls of about eight or nine and older, but I still very much enjoy the Chalet School series myself when I want a bit of light reading. The Armada paperback is not in print, though sometimes found in charity shops or elsewhere second-hand. The original full book was re-published more recently though no longer easily available.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 29th November 2010

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