Champion of the Chalet School by Adrianne Fitzpatrick

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I have great admiration for people who write Chalet School “fill-ins”, because they’re required to keep their style as close to (the publishers’ view of) Elinor M Brent-Dyer (EBD)’s as possible, and trying to write in someone else’s style can’t be easy. Not to mention the need to work round the many “EBD-isms” (inconsistencies) during the series! This book actually isn’t as “EBD-ish” as some of the other fill-ins are, but I think that, given some of the storylines, it benefits from that. EBD was writing for a very young audience, long before the days when people had the wealth of the information superhighway at their fingertips, so she was able to get away with describing people as being “delicate” and making cryptic remarks about “displaced” organs and mysterious illnesses which required operations that couldn’t be performed because “the heart wouldn’t stand it”. Nowadays, especially to an adult audience, that sort of thing gets rather frustrating. Adrianne Fitzpatrick, by contrast, portrays a pupil suffering from asthma, a condition never actually mentioned in the EBD books. The storyline’s dealt with well – especially in its very positive links to the work of Jem Russell, a character whom I feel doesn’t always get the credit that he deserves.

The “champion” of the title (I have to say that I don’t actually like the title, because it keeps making me think of Champion the Wonder Horse, but never mind) is Betsy Lucy who, as the author points out, gets rather neglected in the CS books compared to her sisters Julie and Vi. Betsy’s time in the sun should have come during the second year in Switzerland, when she was Head Girl, but she got completely overshadowed by Our One And Only Mary-Lou and never really got a decent storyline of her own. Betsy in this book is an Upper Third, along with Anne Whitney, the girl with asthma, and various others, many of whom are troublemakers. I do have to say that I was expecting to meet a lot of old friends and was slightly disappointed to find so much attention given to girls whose names I didn’t even recognise – Jane Thomas, Margaret Hart, Lorna Wills, Mary Brown, etc. However, to be fair to the author, many of the major characters in Betsy’s year – Carola Johnstone, Katharine Gordon, Lalla Winterton – didn’t arrive at the school until later on. It would have been nice to have seen more of Sybil Russell and Blossom Willoughby, but I appreciate that the author didn’t want to show them as “baddies”; and it was good to see a positive portrayal of Sybil, whom I feel gets a rather raw deal from EBD.

The reason there’s so much trouble going on is that this book’s set just after the “failure” of Marilyn Evans as Head Girl. I have a lot of sympathy for Marilyn, because I feel that the school asks far too much of its prefects, especially given that they’re likely to be studying for public exams. It’s a difficult issue to tackle without suggesting that – shock horror! – the school made the wrong choice of Head Girl, and I think that Adrianne Fitzpatrick manages it fairly well. And, oh, what a joy to see Madge attending a staff meeting, and Joey given only a minor role in the book! Peggy Burnett’s the person who takes over as Head Girl, and, after Betsy, is the major character in the book. Very nice to see a mention of the fact that the Burnetts were Rosalie Dene’s cousins: I think EBD forgot about that! Also interesting to see the prefects split between the Peggy faction and the Marilyn faction – other than Deira’s dislike of Grizel, the prefects are generally shown as all being bezzie mates and working wonderfully well together, and I’m not sure how realistic that is!

Peggy and in particular Betsy do sometimes come across as being a bit priggish, with all the For The Good Of The School talk and Utter Horror at the breaking of rules. That’s not uncommon in school stories, but I think it did go a little bit far here. However, all in all it’s a very good read. And it was all about the school, which was wonderful – no-one was rescued from a lake by a doctor, or rushed off to ask Joey to solve whatever the latest problem was! It can’t be the easiest part of the school’s history to write about – so may of the storylines rely on the weather and the landscape, and Herefordshire isn’t exactly like the Alps when it comes to any of that – and Adrianne Fitzpatrick’s done a good job. I do have mixed feelings about the whole concept of “fill-ins”, but I thoroughly enjoy reading them all the same!

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