Review: Juniors of the Chalet School, by Katherine Bruce

70_juniors_of_the_chalet_school__42692-1480431225-1280-1280Rosalie held up a hand in protest. “I won’t hear it! This term will be such a peaceful one that it will be spoken of forever in the annals of the Chalet School’s long and glorious history! Future prefects will envy us for our weeks of inaction and the ability to get our work done in prep without disruption. We will have no illnesses or accidents or – or anything!”

Chalet School fill-ins are a mildly controversial topic, but I’ve always enjoyed fanfiction and I generally like seeing how other people view the characters and interpret situations both explicit and implicit. Juniors of the Chalet School by Katherine Bruce is one of the less usual ones, since it takes place during a published term, covered in The Princess of the Chalet School. As the author points out in her foreword, the juniors hardly appear in Princess, and I enjoyed the fact that she took the opportunity to tell the story from the point of view of the younger girls. It mostly revolves around the juniors’ conflicts with Matron and Grizel – they seem to have been a combative bunch that term! – with, of course, the traditional folk tales and natural (not to mention unnatural) disasters.

I must confess that I especially revelled in the fact that Matron Webb really was thoroughly evil. She bullies the girls. She tries to bully the staff. I forget whether or not the school had a cat at this point, but if it did she would certainly have kicked it. This, of course, makes the juniors’ treatment of her (we only see the older girls’ activites as they affect the little ones) entirely understandable and perfectly justified – and means that the reader can sit and enjoy Matron’s come-uppance with no regrets.

I’ve said this before, but for me one of the most important things in any novel is characterisation, and happily Katherine Bruce’s efforts in this direction are more than acceptable. The characters are all quite consistent with Elinor Brent-Dyer’s creations, and Robin (sorry, the Robin) is both consistent and quite bearable, which is an impressive achievement when you come to think about it!

Grizel, too, is more than bearable in Juniors of the Chalet School, which I’m glad about because she’s one of my favourite characters in the series. She’s complex and interesting and tries desperately hard and fails and tries again and is just very human and refreshing. Actually, in Juniors I felt rather sorry for her. At the start of term, Madge asks her to live with and supervise the juniors, giving her perhaps five minutes of guidance and then never bothering to check up on her for the rest of the time. Even the rest of the staff who live at Le Petit Chalet don’t seem interested in seeing how things are going or whether Grizel or the juniors are doing all right with the arrangement, until Grizel is driven by the juniors’ rebellion to beg for help from Juliet. Of course, such situations are only too common at the Chalet School – teenaged girls are regularly expected to have the wisdom of a sixty year old!

Altogether, I think Juniors at the Chalet School is a very worthy addition to the growing collection of fill-ins published by Girls Gone By Publishers. It’s very jolly and light-hearted, trots along at a decent pace, and has some good characterisation. I skimmed the description of the masque but that, of course, is a traditional Elinor Brent-Dyer experience! Definitely recommended for anyone who likes a fill-in that fits in well with the Chalet School canon.

(Image nicked from Girls Gone By Publishers)

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Antonia Forest’s Kingscote: Spring Term, by Sally Hayward

‘On Monday morning, much to the School’s surprise, Miss Keith said grace and then told everyone to remain seated as she had something of paramount importance to say.

“In that tone of voice,” Miranda whispered with relish, “it can only mean an execution.”’

 

‘I can’t remember a time when Autumn Term and End of Term were not sitting on the bookshelf,’ writes Sally Hayward in the foreword to her sequel to Antonia Forest’s series of books about the Marlow family, and it shows. She doesn’t just manage to capture Antonia Forest’s style, in language, plot and characters, but also courageously introduces some significant character developments of her own.

The Attic Term, last of the school stories, finishes with quite a few dangling ends. Sally Hayward continues the uncertainty between Nicola and Esther, caused by Esther’s last-minute failure to sing Nicola’s solos, on just the right note – there are no angry quarrels, just cringeworthy and painfully realistic awkwardness.

Similarly, the parting of Patrick and Ginty is, I think, entirely faithful to Antonia Forest. Indeed, Ginty’s storyline is probably Sally Hayward’s bravest and most controversial development. In The Attic Term, Mr Merrick comments that ‘I think it’s evens whether she goes to the good or to the bad. But I doubt if it’ll be very spectacular either way’, and a few lines later refers to Ginty as the Lady of Shalott: ‘”She has a lovely face, God in his mercy lend her grace”.’ In many ways Mr Merrick is right – Ginty does move a little towards the bad, but in no dramatic fashion. It’s fascinating to watch her gradual descent from shamed fibbing about the telephoning scandal of the previous term – which leads to difficulties in her relationship with Patrick – which leads to her reading his private letter to Nicola – which leads to her terrified lying in an attempt not to be found out, and eventually to the horrible showdown with her best friend Monica. It makes convincing and painful reading, and while I felt that Antonia Forest probably wouldn’t have taken Ginty down this route, there was, and still is, a continual lurking feeling that she just might have. She certainly wouldn’t have shied away from doing so if she’d wanted to; that much is evident from the boundary-breaking, trope-crushing originality of the Marlow stories.

Tied into Ginty’s storyline is the final maturing of Ann – probably the part of the book I felt was least consistent with Antonia Forest’s style, simply because I can’t help the feeling that she didn’t much like Ann and that, in her mind, Ann would always be pretty much the same person. But I enjoyed Sally Hayward’s ideas about how Ann might change, and certainly the manner in which it happens is entirely plausible. Most poignant, I felt, was the moment when Lawrie, in careless irritation, asks Ann, ‘Why didn’t you go to the Chapel and ask Him?’ and Ann’s shocked realisation that that had never even crossed her mind.

There are many other enjoyable elements to the book – Nicola’s singing lessons with Dr Herrick and her spiritual musings in the cathedral. Her resumed closeness with Patrick (I particularly enjoyed him persuading her, quite cleverly, to buy a new horse). The French Play that Miss Keith insists upon for Open Day is a challenge for both Lawrie in the starring role and Tim as producer. And Lawrie herself faces a personal trauma which she deals with in typical Lawrie fashion. Perhaps with a few too many italics and Marlow-isms, but altogether a worthy sequel to Antonia Forest and a really entertaining book in its own right.

(With thanks to Clarissa of GGBP for providing the cover image).