13/06/2011

The Maids of La Rochelle (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

There were hardback editions of several of Elinor M Brent-Dyer's books on my grandmother's shelves when I was a teenager. I read and loved the Chalet School ones regularly, and also the shorter, less well-known 'La Rochelle' series which had some interesting connections to the Chalet School including some overlap of characters.

I've been able to collect all the Chalet School books for myself, including some that belonged to my mother, but had almost given up hope of ever seeing the La Rochelle series again - hardback copies are extortionately expensive, and very rare. So I was delighted to find that they're gradually being re-published, with the full original text, by 'Girls Gone By'.

I got hold of, and read 'A Head Girl's Difficulties' about six months ago, and recently ordered 'The Maids of La Rochelle', which I remembered with particular fondness. As a teenager I thought it one of the most romantic books I had ever read...

I had, however, almost entirely forgotten the plot. I knew it was the story of three recently orphaned sisters, Elizabeth, Anne and Janie, after they move to Guernsey. But there was almost nothing in it that I remembered. The sisters struggle to fit in with the local people, but gradually make friends. There's a delightful young girl calling herself 'Miss Ozanne', who appears out of the blue one day, and there are a couple of extremely low-key romantic threads, too, which is about all I remembered of the book.

I love the connections with the Chalet School series, as this book gives the background to three families who appear in some of the Guernsey books. It also gives some interesting viewpoints of village life on this small island in the early part of the 20th century.

There's a useful introduction that discusses the book in detail from a modern perspective - a bonus with the Girls Gone By editions. Of course the language and customs seem a little old-fashioned, and the class consciousness seems very dated in places. I was surprised that the romantic threads I remembered were so very low-key, but that fits with Brent-Dyer's usual style for teenagers.

Overall, I was very pleased to be able to re-read this and add it to my collection. Recommended to anyone who likes old-fashioned stories of this nature, particularly those who enjoy the Chalet School; if you think you would like it, I'd recommend ordering it soon as books by this publisher do seem to go out of print rather quickly. It's only available at enormous price in the USA, as far as I know.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 13th June 2011

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