The New Mistress at the Chalet School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

After some quite intense reading, and a very busy day, I wanted something light and comforting to settle down with for an hour or two. I skimmed my shelves, and rejected several other favourite writers in favour of Elinor M Brent-Dyer, author of the lengthy Chalet School series set in the middle of the 20th century. I’m gradually re-reading my way through, and have reached some that I have not read for at least fifteen years.

The last one I read was ‘A Problem for the Chalet School’, so next in line was ‘A New Mistress at the Chalet School’, one which enjoyed very much as a teenager, and when I re-read some of them in my thirties. I had an Armada paperback edition of this so was pleased when I managed to acquire my mother’s hardback version as a great deal was cut for the paperback.

Rather than being about new girls at the school, this one, as the title suggests, is about a new staff member. Kathie Ferrars is 22 and has just qualified as a teacher, so she’s delighted to be offered the post of form mistress for ‘Inter V’ at the girls’ boarding school in Switzerland. The first chapters see her with her beloved aunt, and then meeting some of her colleagues as she embarks on the lengthy journey from the UK.

I liked the different emphasis; the author was herself a headmistress of a girls’ school, so I’m sure that much was drawn from her experience. Kathie is a likeable young woman, if a bit too easily led by unhelpful advice. She’s quite shy, too, but evidently a very good teacher, and well able to deal with the apparently modern outlook of the school’s methods though she struggles to accept the camaraderie that exists between the older girls and the staff.

The characterisation is good (albeit stereotyped in some instances), and the storylines good. The writing is, in places, a little repetitive, and features a bit too much author viewpoint, telling us what a pity it was that Kathie did or thought something as it was to lead to problems. Perhaps these were removed in the Armada paperback, but I’d still rather read the original. I might smile at the regular mentions of Miss Annersley’s beautiful voice that was one of her best features, or her blue-grey eyes that didn’t need glasses, but this kind of thing is part of the Chalet School tradition.

Definitely recommended to fans of the series, particularly those who dip in and out of the books; this one has a little something extra. The books all stand alone so it might even make a good introduction to the series, although there are so many references to earlier books (with footnote references) that it would probably be better to read at least a few of the earlier ones first.

The full text was re-printed by 'Girls Gone By' in 2006, but it's now out of print again and rather expensive to buy second-hand; the hardbacks such as mine seem to go for even higher prices. The abridged Armada paperback is still worth getting if you are collecting the series and can't find a full edition, although even these are sometimes rather pricey, unless you come across them in a charity shop.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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