17/12/2018

Prefects of the Chalet School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

In re-reading the entire lengthy series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer (well, almost all of it… apparently I missed out some of the earlier ones when I embarked on a re-read over nine years ago) I finally reached the last one. 58th in the original series, ‘Prefects of the Chalet School’ covers the last half term for the Maynard triplets (Len, Con and Margot) and their contemporaries. It follows immediately on from ‘Althea joins the Chalet School’, and is best read after that one - not that I particularly enjoyed either of them.

When I last read ‘Prefects’, back in the year 2000, I liked it and apparently thought it a good, encouraging end to the series. I’m not entirely sure why I thought that. It’s certainly conclusive: the final scene reads like a decided end, and we learn what the triplets are planning to do in their futures - Len, in particular, makes a decision that she’s reluctant to take until an unexpected crisis.

But the book is rather muddled, with more than the usual number of continuity errors, some of them occurring within the space of a page. It was published posthumously, so perhaps it was never properly edited; indeed, I understand that some doubt has been cast over the authorship of the book. It would make sense if Brent-Dyer didn’t write more than an outline and a few scenes; while some parts are classic Chalet School, others are stilted, with turns of phrase that don’t feel quite right.

The plot is confusing too. There’s a promising thread about some girls who cheek the prefects, and then decide to go ahead with their own wishes anyway. Suddenly the staff are discussing it, and take advice from Joey Maynard… only to do something different. And it all peters out rather lamely. We read of a midnight feast that led to upset stomachs requiring Matey’s nostrums, and a planned midnight picnic which goes wrong… in a series where midnight feasts have hardly featured at all. It feels almost like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers for a few chapters in the middle of the book.

Then there’s the annual Sale. There’s usually a page or two about the Sale in summer term books, possibly a short chapter. I generally skim them. But in this book, two entire chapters are devoted to it, in addition to longish sections about preparation. While the Sale is undoubtedly a Good Thing, it’s pretty dull to read about.

On the plus side, I do like the section about Jack Lambert starting to become more responsible and to think about other people. And I like the way the triplets’ future is mapped out, even if the unexpected part of Len’s is somewhat unrealistic. Presumably it is meant to mirror what happened to her mother in the excellent ‘Chalet School in Exile’. But it really doesn't succeed.

As for Margot, I remember being startled by her announcement the first time I read this book (in the mid-1970s when I borrowed it from my school library). But now I can see it foreshadowed somewhat in earlier books, and have no problem with it. It’s Con, whom we already know to be a writer, whose plans are all too vague, hinted at but with no resolution.

I found a lot of the dialogue to be either stilted or unnecessarily trite, which again suggests lack of editing (or possibly writing by someone else) - and yet, overall, I’m glad I read it. I used to be sad that the author didn’t continue her series, but 58 books is plenty; the latter books are mostly not as good (in my view) as the earlier ones, and it must have been difficult to come up with new ideas.

‘Prefects of the Chalet School’ is worth having if you’re a collector of the series and would like closure. But it’s not one I would recommend in general.

Note that this has been re-published by 'Girls Gone By', but the Armada paperback version was not abridged. So if you see it inexpensively in a charity shop, that's probably the best way to acquire it.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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