30/05/2018

Summer Term at the Chalet School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)


I fell in love with Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s ‘Chalet School’ series when I was about eight or nine, and found the first twenty or so books on shelves in my grandmother’s house in Scotland. As a teenager, I discovered the rest of the series - at least thirty more books! - in my school library, and borrowed them, one at a time, for my mother to read while I did my homework, and for me to read later.

My mother started collecting the books later on, and as a young adult I would delve into a few of them each time I visited. My intention was to re-read the whole series every ten years or so, but instead I tended to dip into my favourites time and again. I’m sure I must have re-read ‘Summer Term at the Chalet School’ at some point, but I don’t have any record of having done so. That means it’s at least twenty years since I read it, and quite possibly considerably longer.

It’s number 54 in the original series, 58 in the Armada paperback version. I have an Armada edition, but apparently this is one of the Chalet School books that was not abridged in any way. The title isn’t very appealing; it sounds more like a generic school story, or perhaps an Enid Blyton - so I was a little surprised to find that this is a very enjoyable story.

Erica Jane Standish is the ‘new girl’ in this book. We meet her when she recognises Joey Maynard in one of Brent-Dyer’s coincidences that have to be taken with a large grain of salt. However I didn’t have time to find it annoying, because Erica’s story is a sad one, and within a few pages, I had quite a lump in my throat and my eyes were a misty.

Erica’s main feature is that she is not just accident-prone, but unexpected things seem to happen around her. There’s a dramatic incident on the way to the school (where, naturally, she is accepted) and another even more tear-jerking episode where Joey’s motherly nature once again comes to the forefront.

Once in school, the story reverts to a run-of-the-mill Chalet School book for a while. We see the usual lessons through Erica’s eyes, and the struggle to learn French and German. She’s hardly distinguishable from other new girls, other than her tendency to attract problems, mostly through no fault of her own.

The ending, after a dramatic climax, is quite abrupt, but most of the subplots were tidied up by that point. On the whole, though I liked it - and had no memory at all of any of the story. Once I’d started, I could barely put it down. I look forward already to re-reading it when I next read through the whole series.

'Summer Term at the Chalet School' was republished by Girls Gone By a few years ago but is not currently in print. Armada paperback versions can sometimes be found in charity shops, however, and it's often possible to find either hardbacks (at great price) or the more recent reprints second-hand online.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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