Two Sams at the Chalet School

I’m nearing the end of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s lengthy Chalet School series, which I started re-reading several years ago. I’ve been delighted to learn, recently, that there are many adults like me who love this series despite some of the author’s quirks. I like to intersperse Brent-Dyer’s books with others I’m reading; they are light-weight, with some nostalgia from my childhood, and a sense of returning to families and places I’ve loved for years. I first came across the early Chalet School books when I was about nine or ten, on shelves in my grandmother’s house.

‘Two Sams at the Chalet School’ is number 56 in the original hardbacks, and #60 in the Armada paperback series. My edition is an Armada one, but by this stage of re-publishing in paperback, there were few (if any) cuts. It’s a long time since I read this book - at least twenty years, probably more. I didn’t recall the plot, which perhaps isn’t surprising, as it is essentially (in my view) a run-of-the-mill Chalet School book, covering much of the same ground as previous ones.

It’s the Winter/Spring term, and there are only two new girls in the school. Samantha is fifteen, and an American. She’s travelled a fair amount with her parents, but they want her to settle down to have a good education, and decide that the Chalet School, with its focus on languages, sounds like a good option. Samaris is thirteen, and her parents recently moved to Innsbruck. She went to an Austrian school but they want her to have a solid British education, so she, too, is sent to the Chalet School.

The two are feeling a bit nervous on their first day, and feel they have to stick together somewhat despite the difference in ages. There’s a spark of friendship too, which neither quite understand, and they remain friends despite being in different forms, with very different interests. Much is made of the similarity of their names… Samantha would have been quite an unusual name when the book was written, but the idea that they must be connected is pushed a bit too far, in my view. When a connection is eventually discovered, I rolled my eyes a little; Brent-Dyer likes coincidences and this one, though it has a good background, is rather too like others that have have occurred previously in the series.

The story focuses on the two Sams, as they’re known, and various escapades they get into. It’s not that either of them is particularly mischievous, but they both seem to act without thinking about the consequences. I didn’t find any of them all that interesting, nor the standard classroom/staffroom conversations. There are some jealousies and arguments, but they seem to get forgotten rather than resolved.

However, this book has its positive side. There are some quite moving scenes where we see Joey’s youngest daughter Phil, aged three, in her slow recovery from polio. Con Maynard gets a shock, and - hopefully - learns to be more responsible, not daydreaming when she’s supposed to be in charge of other girls. And in one scene where the juniors get stuck, temporarily in their common room due to a door latch problem, there’s what is probably the single reference in the entire series to the need to use toilets. Someone reports that ‘LĂ©onie was going to be excused’.

Worth reading as part of the series, and it probably stands alone quite well too. It’s not a bad story; as light bedtime or holiday reading, it serves its purpose. But I wouldn’t necessarily bother with it if I were just dipping in and out of my favourite Chalet School books.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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