Joey Goes to the Oberland (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

Any time I need something comforting which is light and easy to read, I turn to my bookcase of younger teenage books... and, very often, to the Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. My mother enjoyed these books as a child and through most of her adult life, and I seem to have inherited the same tendencies. I don't read all 60+ together; instead I've been pacing them out, reading just a few each year.

'Joey goes to the Oberland' is one of a small number of Chalet School books that does not, in fact, include much about the School itself. It follows right after ‘Changes for the Chalet School’, which I read in March, and in which an announcement is made that the majority of the school would be moving to the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland.

In this book, Joey Maynard (formerly Joey Bettany), one of the school foundation stones, and now the proud mother of eight (so far...) prepares to move herself, her family and her effects. She will be joining her husband Jack, a doctor at the sanatorium in the Oberland. Jo has plenty of help - a housekeeper called Anna, her adopted sister Robin, and various others, but Jo is a resourceful and energetic young woman who does a great deal herself.

The early part of the book is quite rambling, as Joey and her aides discuss what they will take, how to pack it, and plans in general. This is the book in which we say goodbye to Robin, who is shortly to move to Canada to follow her vocation as a nun. But she’s very involved in the preparations for the move. It’s also the book in which Daisy Venables gets married - a rather low-key affair, with her aunt and uncle absent, but important in the chronology of the lengthy series.

I found some of the conversations a bit lengthy at first, not really going anywhere, and - inevitably - sounding somewhat old-fashioned. More annoying was that Joey and Jack regularly refer to all their children as ‘brats’... perhaps in the 1950s when this was written, it was not as rude or dismissive as it appears today. The children are mostly extremely well-behaved and likeable, about as far from brats as it’s possible to imagine.

Once the journey begins, the story gets more interesting; Jo catches up with some old friends along the way, and eventually gets to the school where they stay temporarily before moving into their new - and enormous - home.

There’s not a whole lot of plot; it would be entirely possible to read the series without this book, but since I like Joey as a character (she was, apparently, based very much on the author’s ideal wife and mother) it was a good book to while away a few hours. I found it quite easy to put down and didn’t finish it as quickly as I had expected to, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Nowhere near as moving or enjoyable as ‘Jo to the Rescue’, one of the early books that focuses primarily on Joey outside the school setting, and I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for someone wanting to see what this series is about. But for fans of the Chalet School series, and in particular fans of the lengthy Maynard family, this is a bit different from most, and makes a good light read if you allow for the rambling and datedness.

Recommended in a low key kind of way, if you can find it. It's not currently in print, and second-hand editions tend to sell for extremely high prices.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 12th June 2013

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