This is a fill-in that’d been waiting to be written! It’s very frustrating that EBD, having set up the Annexe and located some of the main characters there, never showed us anything of Juliet’s time as a mistress, Juliet and Grizel working together, Madge’s temporary return to teaching, or Robin’s maturing from a rather irritating “Engelkind” to the girl who braved a crowd of baying Nazis to try to help Herr Goldmann. Robin’s the central character in this book, which I think is probably what most readers would have expected.
(Although this is set in the 1930s, and therefore classes as being historical even though there’s no history as such in it, nothing I’m saying will make much sense to anyone who doesn’t read Chalet School books. I’m just indulging myself by writing it. It’s “Twixmas”, after all!)
Jo barely features. Hooray! I don’t dislike teenage Jo, but I do dislike the way that, as the series progresses, she’s placed at the centre of everything, even in situations which shouldn’t involve her at all. I’m very fond of Madge and am always sorry that she’s shoved into the background, quite probably so as to leave centre stage free for Jo; so it’s great to see her involvement here … although it can’t have lasted for long, as Sybil was born at the end of the following term. There’s such a nice scene in which Madge gently ribs Juliet about being so keen to make the Annexe seem like the Chalet School that she insists on referring to a tiny little room as “Hall”, and it really does get across that lovely lightness and humour that we get in the early books, before the School starts taking itself and its institutions too seriously.
Juliet, despite her youth and inexperience, manages things very well, although we do see her being nervous early on. Strangely, there’s not a single mention of Donal, or the general fact that Juliet will only be teaching until she and he can afford to get married. I can’t stand the man and wish Juliet had sent him packing, but it does seem a bit odd that there’s no reference to him. Oh well. The interaction between Juliet and Robin comes across very nicely, and Gertrud’s absence – we were originally told that “Grizel and Gertrud” would be helping Juliet, but then Gertrud never appeared! – is satisfactorily explained as being due to a ski-ing accident. I have such great admiration for the way in which fill-in authors work their way round EBD-isms 🙂 .
I’m sorry that Grizel, although it’s nice to see her getting a chance to teach Games as well as music, is portrayed unfavourably, though. I’m sure it’s exactly what EBD would have done, because she always seemed keen to insist that Grizel disliked Robin and was jealous of her, but I think Grizel gets a raw deal in the later Tyrol books. Surely anyone would be upset if they invited an old friend for a catch-up and just got “Can’t. Where’s my Robin?” in response, without so much as a “Sorry” or “Maybe another time”, or if they had to hear of an old friend’s engagement second-hand? Grizel put herself in considerable danger to rescue Robin in Head Girl, and that gets forgotten about. As I said, I’m sure the way Grizel’s written here is the way EBD would have written her, had she written a book about the Annexe, so it’s no criticism of Adrianne Fitzpatrick, but I do think it’s a shame.
Most of it’s about the girls, though, as you would expect, not the staff. EBD never named most of the twenty-two pupils of the Annexe, so a fill-in author was free to guess at them. It’s great to see Lilias Carr included: we hear very little about the school-age pupils at the San. I’d like to have seen more of Stacie, but I suppose there’s only so much you can fit into a book of this length.
The main plot is one which EBD liked and used several times – in New, Bride, Oberland and Feud -, that of a group of Chalet School girls and a group of girls from another school/other schools having to find a way to come together. Seeing as EBD used it no fewer than four times, it’s hardly original, but it’s good to see Robin and Amy, two of the central characters of the early days, at the heart of it, along with Signa.
There are also a whole load of minor plots. We see, very realistically, that some girls aren’t at all happy with being moved to the Annexe. EBD, who didn’t like to criticise either the school or the doctors, never really hinted at that, but surely it was inevitable. Amy misses Margia. Inga misses her friends. Renee is worried about her music lessons. Irma feels that she’s missing out on all the excitements at the main school. They must have felt like second-class citizens, and that must have been hard for everyone – and it must also have been strange knowing that most of the girls hoped to be moved to the main school ASAP. And, yay, one girl rebels and has a hot bath! I always find it very unrealistic that no-one in the entire canon series ever does that!
There isn’t that much about “delicacy” and health issues. We’re told that they only have short lessons, and are encouraged to go out for fresh air in between lesson periods, which is interesting, and there are some references to medicine, but there’s not actually that much sense of it being a special school in any way. Doctors are barely mentioned! However, it would have been pretty miserable if it’d been some kind of set-up in which no-one was allowed to do anything in case they hurt or tired themselves – and that wouldn’t have fitted with the emphasis on fresh air and exercise anyway. And, as the author pointed out, Jem would definitely not have wanted them sleeping outdoors in all weathers, which was the way it worked at some “health” places at the time J.
There are no major accidents or disasters, but there’s a lot of the usual Chalet School stuff that we know and love! Cookery lessons, making stuff for the Sale, expeditions, etc. It’s very well-written, and it reads a proper Chalet School without ever slavishly following EBD’s use of language or syntax. There’s no point at which you think that that wouldn’t have happened, or that that character wouldn’t have behaved in that way, but, at the same time, it’s different, because a lot of the characters are unfamiliar and the whole Annexe set-up is unfamiliar.
It’s not particularly exciting, in that there aren’t any dramatic incidents/accidents, but, quite frankly, it all gets a bit too much in some of the Swiss books, where there are meteorites landing on cricket pitches, sudden blizzards and avalanches every five minutes and people lying “still, grey and to all appearance dead” all over the show! There’s more than enough in the plots and the characters here to hold the reader’s attention. The only things I’d moan about are criticisms of the Chalet School (I love it to bits, but nothing’s perfect!) rather than of this book, i.e. the portrayal of Grizel and the repetition of the two-become-one plot. It’s a really enjoyable read – and the Tyrol-era Chalet School books are so good that anyone who can write a book that genuinely feels like one of them deserves a lot of credit!