The Twins at St Clare's (by Enid Blyton)

I wasn’t planning to read this book. But a nine-year-old friend has been reading her way through Enid Blyton’s ‘Mallory Towers’ series, and I suggested she might try the ‘St Clare’s’ series next. I couldn’t remember which one came first, so I pulled a couple of them from my shelves, and then started reading this one...

‘The Twins at St Clare’s’ is, indeed, the first in this series about a boarding school. However the twins in the title - Pat and Isabel - have no wish to go there. They have been to quite an exclusive boarding school which take girls up to fourteen, and hope to go to the same one as their best friends. But their parents consider that they are getting conceited and arrogant, and are determined that they should go to St Clare’s instead.

They go with great reluctance, determined to defy the system and make nuisances of themselves. Naturally - this being an Enid Blyton school story - they come across somewhat caricatured classmates: helpful Hilary, outspoken Janet, mousy Kathleen and more. The teachers, too, are rather larger than life, but it doesn’t matter; each chapter has anecdotes in the life of the school, as Pat and Isabel slowly discover that they can make friends, work hard, and join in with fun and games.

And I kept reading. Abandoning other pursuits, I finished the book in an hour or so, surprised at how much I liked it. The writing isn’t brilliant, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some might suggest. This undoubtedly comes across as dated and unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter; for the duration of the book, I could almost feel myself at St Clare’s, observing the classes, sympathising with the staff, egging on the girls to loyalty and enthusiasm and good health.

For these books come with plenty of moral lessons, not spelt out too overtly, but clear to see. Mischief is acceptable within moderation, but playing tricks on nervous teachers leads to serious consequences: not so much for the girls, but for the teacher concerned. Defying the rules may sometimes feel like the right thing, but consciences prick and it’s seen as far better to own up to wrongdoing, or put it right. Even bigger issues - lying, boasting or theft - are shown to be a result of some unfortunate circumstance, and forgiveness is offered for anyone willing to own to her faults and change her attitude.

Overall, I was impressed - more so than I had expected, having not read the book for decades. I have no hesitation in recommending it to my nine-year-old friend, or to anyone else of this age or a little older who reads fluently and enjoys girls’ school stories.

Reprinted in 2014, this is available in paperback or Kindle form, at least in the UK, either alone or in a volume with two other books in the series. Older editions can often be found second-hand.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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