15/02/2014

Third Year at Malory Towers (by Enid Blyton)

Like many of my generation from the UK, I learned to love reading due to the prolific and creative writing of Enid Blyton. When I was about ten - and then for many years - one of my favourite of her series was the six books set in the fictional boarding school Malory Towers.

A small friend of mine is borrowing these books, one at a time, and returned my elderly edition of 'Third Year at Malory Towers' last night. I picked it up and read read the first couple of pages out of mild curiosity - it's probably thirty years or more since I last read it - and found myself totally caught up in the storylines.

This book continues to feature the likeable Darrell. Her best friend Sally is off school and in quarantine, so Darrell hangs out with the somewhat sharp Alicia whose friend Betty is also of school for a few weeks. The book is set in the spring term of the girls' third year at this secondary school in the 1940s. New girls are the film-mad Zerelda from the US, and horse-mad Wilhelmina who is always known as Bill.

Bill is 'boyish', Zerelda image-conscious but very behind academically. Yes; gender and cultural stereotypes abound. Neither particularly wants to be at school, but for entirely different reasons. Yet both are very likeable in their different ways; Zerelda is generous and honest underneath her fake exterior, Bill loyal and hard-working, so long as she can spend time with her horse Thunder.

These two and others are caricatures, undoubtedly. And yet, somehow Enid Blyton managed to get inside the schoolgirl mind. I related to several of them in my own teenage years, and they still felt oddly believable. There are tricks and disobedience, as in all school stories - but fair play and honesty are seen as vital traits, and some useful moral lessons are demonstrated without any preaching.

The writing isn't the greatest. In places it's a bit repetitive and - unsurprisingly - very dated (this book was first published in 1948). But who can fail to be moved by Bill's attempts to save her horse from colic, or by Darrell's dedication to lacrosse, leading to a moment of totally unexpected triumph?

Enid Blyton books are not good literature. Some of the language or treatment of people seems inappropriate, although it was quite acceptable at the time. And these books have undoubtedly stood the test of time. They remain constantly in print, at least in the UK, and still, apparently, appeal to pre-teen girls.... as well as adults who read and enjoyed them many decades ago.

Also available in Kindle form.

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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