09/04/2017

The Chalet School Triplets (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

In my gradual re-reading of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s lengthy Chalet School series, I’ve reached the final ten. I first read these later volumes in my early teens, borrowed from my school library, then over the next few decades dipped into a few, now and again, from my mother’s collection. My memory is of quite a mixed bunch: some good, some rather samey.

‘The Chalet School Triplets’, 49th in the original editions, is one of the better ones, in my view.  It follows on from 'The Feud in the Chalet School', with some of the girls from that mentioned in passing. I only have the Armada paperback edition, but I gather it’s not too drastically cut down from the original.

This book, unsurprisingly, features the Maynard triplets, Len, Con and Margot, who are now sixteen. Len, who is tall and responsible, is now a prefect, planning to be a teacher when she leaves school. Con is still inclined to be dreamy and to get lost in her writing, but she’s learned to work hard and is also planning to become a teacher. Margot, the red-headed triplet who used to get up to a lot of mischief, is now determined to keep up with her sisters, and isn’t yet sure what she wants to do in the future.

In this book, Len is accidentally responsible for a very worrying incident when some girls go missing; Con is a reluctant last-minute performer on stage; Margot receives an exciting invitation from her best friend, who now lives in Australia. There’s also a dramatic blizzard scene, and - of all things - an attempted kidnapping.

Each incident makes interesting reading, and I liked seeing the different characters of the three. While Brent-Dyer caricatured some of her creations, she must have been fond of the Maynard family. They’re realistically flawed; but all, in their different ways, are very likeable. The growth we’ve seen in each of the triplets over the years is believable, and Margot’s sudden flashes of temper, albeit far fewer than when she was younger, remind us of the difficult child she used to be.

Perhaps there is too much drama for one term; chapter after chapter gives more excitement, far more so than in books whose titles sound more dramatic than this one. There’s very little about ordinary school life; it’s a background to the triplets’ lives, and I like the change of pace. However, those who are not fans of the Maynards might find this a bit dull or heavy-going.

Brent-Dyer never hid the tragedies that beset people; TB was still a terrible scourge even in the early 1960s when this book was first published, and there’s a great deal of sadness amongst those affected. As a piece of mid-century social history I think this series has tremendous value, even if it focuses on the upper middle classes, primarily, and an idealised school system, with most problems easily solved.

This book is best read as part of the series rather than a one-off. It could stand alone, but the large cast of characters would be confusing without the background of previous books in the series. It probably appeals most to voracious readers aged around 12-14, and of course their parents and grandparents who remember the series with fondness from their youth.

I'm delighted to learn that 'Girls Gone By' have republished the original version of this, along with various other titles in the series. Original hardbacks are rare and usually highly priced. However the slightly abridged Armada paperbacks are quite often found inexpensively second hand, and in charity shops.

Recommended.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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