A Leader in the Chalet School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

In my gradual re-reading of the entire Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, I feel as if I’m on the last stretch now; I’ve just finished the 45th (according to the hardback numbering) out of the original 58. That means they’re less familiar; as a child I re-read the first twenty or so, which were at my grandparents’ house, most summers. I then took the later ones out of my secondary school library, one or two at a time, in my teens. My mother then started collecting them, and I dipped into some of them now and again… eventually acquiring the entire set from her.

A Leader in the Chalet School follows directly after Ruey Richardson - Chaletian which I read a few months ago. My edition of this is the Armada paperback, but according to experts, although there are frequent cuts in the text, they are all minor. So there are no vast missing sections, and thus no real reason to look for a hardback; I don't think there is (yet?) a ‘Girls Gone By’ edition.

Jack Lambert is the new girl in this book; niece of Gay Lambert, of ‘Gay from China…’, and a tomboy who hates her full name of Jacynth, Jack has longed to come to the Chalet School for some years, but when finally there, aged 11, she finds herself rather hemmed in by rules and regulations. She’s a likeable, scrupulously honest girl but full of curiosity and mischief.

Len Maynard, oldest of Joey’s long family by a few minutes, takes Jack under her wing. We’re told rather too often in this book that Len is taking on the mantle of both her mother and Mary-Lou, something that can easily be seen, but Len does it in her own style and her character emerges quite nicely in this book. She’s quite mature for fifteen, taking on responsibility naturally, and accepting Jack’s questions with - for the most part - fortitude and humour.

The book follows the usual classroom anecdotes and entertainments, enlivened by Jack’s determination to play tricks on her classmates and even the staff, although she eventually learns that this kind of thing is not encouraged at the Chalet School. Jack is a good character and is quickly adopted as a friend by some of her classmates, much to the consternation of another girl who decides she doesn’t like Jack at all…

It’s a quick read, more so because of being the paperback, and I liked it rather more than some of the recent ones I’ve read. In a couple of places I almost laughed aloud at some of the things that happened, or the way somebody spoke. I was mildly frustrated by an odd continuity error: Len’s triplet Margot, in an early chapter, is said to be singing the part of the Fairy Queen in the St Mildred’s pantomime; but when the pantomime is performed (happily without a blow-by-blow account) and then discussed by the triplets afterwards, there is no mention of Margot’s having been in it.

But overall, I enjoyed it very much. It must be twenty years or more since I last read it, and I had entirely forgotten the storyline.

Not currently in print but sometimes available second-hand.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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