11/11/2014

The Chalet School and Barbara (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

Slowly - oh so slowly - re-reading my way through the lengthy Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, I discovered that I had somehow skipped directly from ‘Joey goes to the Oberland’ to ‘The Chalet School does it again’. I only noticed because the latter had mention of Barbara Chester, who joined the school when it moved to Switzerland and, I knew, had a book of her own.

So I’ve just read ‘The Chalet School and Barbara’ over the past couple of days; I last read it fourteen years ago. Previously I had a paperback edition which was slightly abridged, but I now own a hardback copy and that’s what I read. I had forgotten almost everything about it, other than the fact that the previously frail Barbara finally goes to the school, travelling with her older sister Beth. Her cousin Vi had agreed, reluctantly, to look after Barbara, but she turns out to be friendly and likeable and the two become quite close.

There’s a bit of jealousy from another girl but after one unpleasant incident it seems to die down entirely. There’s the adjustment of the school to starting in the Oberland for the first time, learning about the dangers of blizzards and the fun of snow sports. There are various expeditions with bits of history thrown in, courtesy of the accompanying staff, and there’s the inevitable staff party and Christmas play, described in detail.

It all sounds tedious, but of course it isn’t. To those of us who grew up with the Chalet School, it’s like getting together with old friends. Who could dislike the outspoken (but never rude) Mary-Lou of the clarion tones, or the friendly, if brash Clem who is a new games prefect? Seeing the school through the eyes of a series of new girls is the way it works, and Barbara is a likeable character, though perhaps a little too perfect; there’s no hint of the spoiled mummy’s girl that her cousins appear to remember.

My only problem with this book is that there’s very little involving Joey Maynard, despite the fact that she’s living next-door to the school. Her children have inconveniently gone down with German Measles, and in those days there were lengthy periods of quarantine for even this relatively mild illness.

Oh, and there is one instance of a word that shocked me, reading it this time, although as a teenager I would barely have noticed it (and I’m quite sure it’s removed from the Armada version). It’s said in passing and certainly wasn’t meant to be offensive; I find it a little ironic that Elinor M Brent-Dyer is so down on slang, yet used casually some words and phrases that are considered worse than politically incorrect these days.

An important book for fans of the series, introducing the new branch of the school, but not particularly good as a stand-alone or as introduction to the series. Clichés abound, as ever.

‘The Chalet School and Barbara’ has been reprinted recently by Girls Gone By as a facsimile paperback, with a new introduction. It can also often be found second-hand in the somewhat abridged Armada version.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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