This, the latest Chalet School “fill-in”, is a lovely book. It covers three topics within the series which I’ve always felt merited more attention – Nancy Wilmot’s apparent personality transplant between her schooldays and her teaching days; the story of Sue Meadows, who’s in a rather Victorian position as “companion” to her sick cousin Leila Elstob; and, albeit briefly, Leila’s friendship with Con Maynard. The characters are true to how they appear in the “canon” books, the style is very much like Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s, yet it avoids those traits of Elinor’s which grate on people slightly – Joey Maynard is helpful rather than overbearing, nobody preaches, and there are very few references to Nancy’s weight! My only gripe is with the rather odd cover picture.
However, this is yet another “fill-in” which, rather than filling in, runs parallel to an existing book – in this case, The Chalet School and Barbara. Several of the scenes are those already seen, just told from a different viewpoint. I’m not criticising the fill-in authors in any way, but wouldn’t their talents be put to better use in writing more original stories? There’s all sorts of scope for spin-off books about a number of characters, or for sequels to the La Rochelle books. Or, if GGBP want to stick to school stories, how about a book set at the Carnbach branch of the school?
That’s not to take anything away from this book, which is highly recommended if you are a fan of the Chalet School fill-ins.
The original series is rather prone to inconsistencies, affectionately known as “EBD-isms”, and one of the many is that Nancy Wilmot, who as a schoolgirl was described as lazy and had a particular dislike of maths, returns as a maths mistress, and is so efficient and hard-working that, by the end of the series, she looks set to become the next headmistress. The obvious explanation is that, like so many people of her generation, she was changed by her experiences during the war, and that’s what Lisa Townsend shows here. We also see Nancy’s close friendship with Hilary Graves, nee Burn, which, although it is mentioned in The Chalet School and Barbara, seems to be forgotten thereafter – rather like Peggy Burnett and Rosalie Dene being cousins, and Phoebe Peters being Reg Entwistle’s childhood mentor!
One of the biggest strengths of the Chalet School series is that we see the viewpoint of the staff as well as the girls, and we see Nancy having some issues fitting in, and being concerned that she’s not seen as a “proper” Old Girl because she’d been at St Scholastika’s. The issues arising from the merger of the two schools were an issue in The New Chalet School, but the series jumped two or three years so they were never mentioned again.
There’s a vast amount of fanfic about Nancy, but most of that centres on her relationship with Kathie Ferrars. As this book’s set long before Kathie arrived at the school, that obviously doesn’t come into it, but it’s good to see more attention being paid to someone who becomes such an important character.
The other main character in the book is Sue Meadows. I’ve always found Sue’s story interesting – she’s in Switzerland as a “companion” to her sick cousin Leila Elstob, and her fees are being paid by Leila’s mother, who seems concerned only about Leila and not about Sue. It’s something different, but it’s never really explored. Also interesting is Leila’s friendship with Con Maynard, who sadly gets very few storylines. Even with that one, we get Con being summoned to the San, and a lot of talk about how it might affect her, but it then all seems to be forgotten, and we never hear of the two girls seeing each other again! The friendship isn’t really gone into here, but we do see the triplets getting to know Sue and then getting to know Leila. Sue’s story is gone into in far more detail – we learn that her parents are in America due to her dad’s job; and we see what a complex situation it is, with both Mrs Elstob and Sue genuinely frightened by Leila’s medical condition but Sue’s needs being neglected as a result.
It all fits together very well, along with a sub-plot about Mary Woodley, the girl who bullies Barbara Chester. It really is a very good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just think that, now that most of the “missing” terms have been “filled”, it might be better for GGBP and the authors to go in the direction of writing about something new, rather than writing about events which EBD’s already written about. But that’s in no way a criticism of either this author or this book – it really is a lovely book.