Althea Joins the Chalet School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

My gradual re-read of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s lengthy Chalet School series is coming to an end. Today I finished re-reading the penultimate book, Althea Joins the Chalet School. It’s number 57 in the original hardback series, and I’m fortunate enough to have a hardback edition, albeit without a dust jacket. I think it was one of my late mother’s collection. As it happens, though, the last few books were not abridged in the Armada paperback versions.

The story, unfortunately, is rather run-of-the-mill. Althea’s parents have to go abroad for her mother’s health, and her aunt is about to get married, although bizarrely she has kept this a secret even from her brother - and the wedding is just a couple of weeks away as the story opens. Happily, the aunt’s fiancĂ© turns up and recommends that Althea be sent to the Chalet School in Switzerland. Althea is delighted because she ‘just happened’ to have met a couple of the school’s students a few months earlier.

So Althea arrives at the school, and (as with so many new girls) is surprised to learn that she must speak three different languages, even in lessons, and has no idea how she will pick up any German. The prospectus apparently doesn’t mention this important fact. Moreover, Val Pertwee, set to be Althea’s ‘sheepdog’ omits to explain it to her, so Val is removed from sheepdog duty and decides, rather unfairly, that Althea is to blame.

It’s the same plot as others in the series, and while the characters are different, and Althea is likeable enough, she’s rather bland and has no difficulty becoming a ‘real Chalet School girl’. Much of the story involves the supposed feud between Val and Althea, but all the aggression is on Val’s side; Althea doesn’t understand it, and is generally friendly to everyone. This part of the story feels forced, rather than realistic, in my view.

However there isn’t really any other story. There are meetings to discuss the annual Sale, and how to replace the drama costumes that were lost in a fire in one of the previous books. There are staff meetings, and lessons, and since this book, unusually, only covers half a term, the book ends with a half-term break trip for some of the girls, which (inevitably) is fraught with stressful incidents.

It’s not a bad book, exactly. However, I didn’t feel as if all the storylines flowed very well, and it’s missing the excitement and characterisation of some of the earlier books. Perhaps the author was getting quite tired of the series by this stage, but kept writing for the sake of her fans.

On the plus side, it keeps us updated on Samaris, who was introduced in the previous book (‘Two Sams at the Chalet School’), and also mentions more about Erica and Clare, who were adopted by the Maynard family in 'Summer Term at the Chalet School' (number 54) but then not referred to again for a while.

'Althea joins the Chalet School' is, of course, worth having for the many people of my generation who collect and regularly re-read the series. But I would not really recommend it for a casual reader dipping into the series, nor as an introduction to it. There are far better ones.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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