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

As so often happens, I needed something undemanding to read at bedtime during a very busy time of year - so I chose another of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series, which I’m slowly re-reading in order. I was a bit disappointed in the previous two, and had almost entirely forgotten the plot of this one, which I don’t suppose I’ve read for at least twenty years.

‘The Chalet School and Richenda’ reminded me, in the early chapters, of several of the other books; there’s a fairly common theme of girls who are reluctant to attend the eminent boarding school, but who gradually soften, or through some dramatic circumstances become ‘real’ Chalet School girls by the end of the book. In that sense, this is another of the same.

But Richenda is an interesting character. At fifteen, the only child of a middle-aged father who specialises in early Chinese ceramics, she is drawn to his room of precious vases and other artefacts by a longing she barely understands. We meet her with an almost priceless item in her hands which she almost drops - and her father, discovering her, is so furious that he decides to take her out of the school she loves, away from her friends, to a boarding school in Switzerland…

Although Richenda sulks at first, it’s not in her nature to continue, and she rapidly makes friends and discovers a great deal to enjoy in the Chalet School. She continues to let her hurt and anger fester, although I found my credulity was just a little strained at times; her stubbornness and pride seem rather at odds with her generally sunny and generous nature. It takes the wisdom of Joey Maynard to help her see sense, as so often happens; but there are some other interesting sub-plots in the story, including Joey’s own unexplained bilious attacks.

I liked the way that almost all of the story was told from Richenda’s point of view, including some close observation of decor in the school - particularly the dining room - and in local houses which she visits. This gave some new insights into how the author imagined the school and its surroundings to be, and is entirely in keeping with a girl whose passion is art, with a keen eye for detail.

All in all, I liked this volume in the series very much. Mine is an abridged Armada paperback, but apparently nothing of importance is missed out; I gather that details of a half-term visit are removed, but then I always skim the lengthy accounts of educational visits, so I won’t go looking for a full version.

Recommended to fans of the series; it wouldn’t be a bad book to start with, for someone interested in the Swiss era of the school, as so much is seen through Richenda’s eyes and there aren’t too many references to earlier volumes.

Not currently in print, but sometimes found second-hand.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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