17/09/2016

A Future Chalet School Girl (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

In my slow meandering through Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s lengthy Chalet School series, I’ve reached one that I don’t remember ever having read before, although at some point I’m sure I must have done so. This one is numbered 47 in the original hardback series, 51 in the Armada paperback reprints. My edition is one of the latter, but I gather that by this stage in the series Armada were making very few abridgements.

‘A Future Chalet School Girl’ is one of the handful that doesn’t feature life in the Chalet School at all; instead it’s mostly set in Austria, where the Maynard family regularly take their summer holidays after buying the old ‘St Scholastika’ building. I quite like the family-oriented books, perhaps more so than I did when I was younger.

Mélanie Lucas is the new addition to the series who appears in this book. Her parents work abroad and she lives with her aunt and uncle in the UK. She’s just learned that they are moving to Switzerland imminently and that she will have to go to. She hates the thought of leaving her friends and her beloved school, and then, to make matters worse, she becomes ill and can’t even finish her last term.

Mélanie is quite frail after her illness, and the climate of Geneva doesn’t suit her. But her uncle’s new boss turns out to be married to an old Chalet School girl, who in turn puts them in touch with the Maynards. And in typical open-handed style, they invite her to stay in their cooler location in the mountains…

The entire family are on holiday, and I quite liked reading about Jo and Jack’s ‘singleton’ sons, Steve, Mike and Charles, who don’t appear at all in the school-based stories. They’re perhaps a bit caricatured as schoolboys of the era who attend public boarding schools from a young age, but are likeable enough, and with quite distinct characters. We get to know a little about the older twins, Felix and Felicity (irritatingly referred to as ‘The two Fs’ rather too often) and also see further development of the personalities of the triplets, who are now almost fifteen.

Mélanie is quite a good creation, I thought; she’s quite touchy and easily angered, and the interactions between her and the Maynards’ ward Ruey makes an interesting subplot, resolved in a constructive way.

On the not-so-good side, there are several expeditions which the older members of the family take, with a great deal of overtly educational content about history, geography and myths pertaining to the places. This happens in the school-based stories too, but I wasn’t expecting it in this one. Still, for those interested in this kind of thing, this could be counted as a positive point.

Inevitably there are sections which could quite easily have been omitted in the revised edition: explanations, as happen in many of the books, about what the children call their parents; comments about the Maynards’ insistence on chores and obedience; Joey’s golden singing voice. I was a little surprised by almost Blytonish details about what was packed or eaten for various picnics. I also felt that there were rather too many coincidences in this book!

But still, it made a good story, an easy read ideal for evenings when I was tired, and I’m glad to have read it. I look forward to seeing Mélanie again when she joins the school in subsequent books, although I don’t suppose she’ll have such a major role again.


Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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