The Highland Twins at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I used to always think that The Highland Twins at the Chalet School was one of the poorer books. Coming so soon after the dizzy heights of the Chalet School In Exile, I always found Highland Twins at the Chalet School a little – well – cheesey.
But now, after a re-reading of the hardback edition, I feel I need to make an apology to it. Highland Twins at the Chalet School is actually, very quietly, one of the strongest titles in the series.
Following the nearly now-traditional format of new girl, new term, the eponymous Highland Twins Flora and Fauna (sorry, Fiona) McDonald are experiencing their first term at the Chalet School. The twins, having grown up on a remote Scottish island, have very little experience of the world outside their home. Thrown into a furious maelstrom of wartime hardship, schoolgirl feuds, and tragedy, the twins have to come to terms with a whole new world (and a new fantastic point of view).
The hardback edition is worth seeking out if you can as there’s a whole new subplot featuring Elisaveta which has been rampantly cut out of every paperback edition I’ve ever come across. It’s strange, really, as if there’s any peculiar joy about the Chalet School series it is to be found in the encyclopedic recounting of old girls’ exploits. Although, if you do manage to grab the hardback, you’ll have to cope with some spectacularly hideous phonetic spelling every time one of the Highlanders speak. It’s quite something – there’s a whole word of “nefer” and “iss” and “haf”
What makes Highland Twins at The Chalet School work, and indeed all of Brent-Dyers wartime Chalet School books, is her focus on personal responsibility. Nazism, and the evils therein, are resolutely and (quite amazingly considering the national psyche at the time) portrayed as individual choice. There is a moment where two old girls arrive at the Chalet School having escaped from Germany and the recounting of their experiences is an emotional surgical strike. Nazism is described as a disease, a sickness which has infected Germany, and there is always a careful distinction between Nazism and the everyday German.
The other part of Highland Twins at the Chalet School which has a deceptively sharp impact is Fiona’s ability with “the sight”. This is the part that always hit me as superbly cheesey despite the dramatic emotional contexts she utilises her abilities in. But upon this re-reading, I was struck by the almost symbolic usage of her skill. There’s a moment where Fiona does something massively important for an individual (I’m trying desperately not to spoil anything here) and it’s hard not to read a certain wistful angle to this entire episode.
If you’re into the Chalet School, you’ll read this regardless. But if you’re not, I’d genuinely recommend this period of books (starting off with The Chalet School in Exile) as a worthwhile stepping on point. These are books which are almost hiding as children’s books whilst presenting some massively serious and provocative ideologies that still bear weight today.
7 thoughts on “The Highland Twins at the Chalet School : Elinor M Brent-Dyer”
I always found Joey’s behavior annoying in this book -she is very big on telling other people to accept what life throws at them and pull themselves together, but she react rather badly to her own bad luck.
Hi Rachael! I always think that Joey’s a massive problem once she grows up and I do agree that there’s a discrepancy in her behaviour. However what I did find is that the incident which occurs to her in this book (she says, trying to be spoiler free lol) is one of the few moments you see her suddenly be very human. It’s always interesting though to hear what people think of her – she’s one of *the* characters you can’t help but have an opinion on. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment – I appreciate it! 🙂
Have read the PB and quite like it but you have me desperate to read the HB now! Agree that this period – Exile onwards – is superb.
I used to really like Joey (and Mary-Lou for that matter) but I think the CBB made me look at them both differently and I’ve never quite got my initial feelings on them back…
Oh you so need to get to the hb! The pb has been hacked and slashed in comparison (I guess some editor *really* didn’t like ‘Veta) 😉
I agree that the hardback is vastly superior to the paperback. And despite a long life on the CBB I’ve managed to remain a Joey fan. 😀 But this is definitely one of my favourites – being a die-hard romantic I always liked the second-sight bits, but reading the book (in fact, all the war books) as an adult, I particularly appreciate EBD’s tolerant approach to Germans as opposed to Nazis.
That’s exactly it, and the thing that constantly blows my mind with the wartime Chalets. She was writing these *during* wartime and making that differentiation. It’s quite something. And the Peace League itself is amazing. Thank you for your comment! 🙂
This is one of my favorite Chalet School books and now I want to go back and re-read it. I agree with you that Joey does become a major problem at time. It is totally out of character and quite annoying at times. I have never read the PB only an old HB I bought a while ago, but now I am tempted to get the GGBP edition.