The Chalet Girls Grow Up by Merryn Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So, where to begin with this?
It’s a book that has, rightly or wrongly, reached an almost mythological status. I remember when it first came out and the mailing list I lurked, somewhat awkwardly on, exploded. My memories of that remain vivid and so, when I picked this up for the reread, I was interested to see what my thoughts were after a fair few years away from it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Chalet Girls Grow Up was the first – and perhaps the only – spin-off title to write the Chalet School as a real world. And I think that’s perhaps where so much of the tension lies. The Chalet Girls Grow Up is not a relaxing book. It’s not particularly positive, nor is it comforting (at least, not initially). Bad things happen. Lots of them. Remember that Oprah episode where she gave away cars to her audience? “You get a car! And you get a car! And you!” I was reminded of that whilst reading. “You get sad! And you! And you!”
The thing is, Williams writes well. She borders on pastiche at some points which is inevitable considering the nature of the beast, but her language and her turn of phrase is quiet, solid and undeniably poetic at points. It’s a shame that that is quite often lost during the emotional reactions that surround this book. That’s not to say that those reactions are unwarranted. I understand how people can dislike and loathe this book for it is, quite clearly, the Chalet School in its bleakest hour. People die. Lots of people die. There’s divorce, miscarriage, affairs, sadness, joys, suicide, impromptu caresses under the pine trees and sad, loveless marriages a plenty.
There’s life, really, real life, but that’s something the Chalet School never really let happen. And I think, in a book of this nature, the fact that it is so very bluntly darkly real, will always prove troublesome. Williams quite mercilessly pulls the series out of the rose-tinged bubble it can undoubtedly occupy at points and it fascinates me as to the rationale behind the book at this point. Her relationship to the series feels spectacularly complex. And angry. And yet, vividly, warmly, loving.
I think, perhaps, it’s possible to be in love with something and hate it all at the same time.
I’m grateful to @anicecupoftea for helping me formulate my ideas on the above point.
So would I reccommend you read this? Yes, I think I would. Because loving something is one thing, but understanding how that love can be interpreted by others, how that love can be filtered through the experience of the individual, will always, but always, enhance and bring a new level of understanding towards your own relationship with the series.
Plus, if Williams has done nothing else, she has written perhaps the best and most appropriate version of Reg ever seen in the Chalet World.
14 thoughts on “Chalet Girls Grow Up : Merryn Williams”
Agh! I feel like I can’t really respond to this without reading the book, but I really don’t want to read the book! I might write a post about why I don’t want to read the book, though.
Oh, I get that! I do get that! And I’d love to read your post! 😀
I remember buying the Chalet Girls Grow Up when I was a student and just discovering that other people loved the Chalet School too. There were very few people posting fanfic online at the time, and what was there tended to be closer to the books. I remember devouring the book in horror and awe, and absolutely loving it. I didn’t like what they did to some of the characters (oh Jack!), found other bits far too plausible (Reg…) and really enjoyed it beyond the bleakness. It seemed to open the door to a more realistic world and kick characters through from their sunfilled idyll. I don’t think it would have had the same impact if it had been written ten or even five years later, when fanfic was rife and lots of people had dragged characters through dreadful situations. I bought several of the more faithful fill ins and continuations, but rapidly gave up on them. This was so much meater and a more satisfying read. But oh, the sadness…
Yes. This. Exactly. Thank you for this.
I was actually planning to ask you if you’d read this book because I was really interested to know what you thought of it!
I too was completely baffled as to the author’s motive in writing it, because she clearly knew the CS world inside out and yet to inflict so much pain and misery on the characters seemed to imply that she also hated it…it was very weird.
I also found it particularly uncomfortable because she had managed to pick out ALL of the quirks or foibles of the characters that in other less idyllic worlds would have been signs of mental illness or at least slight dysfunctionality and blow them all up to real-world proportions, letting the characters face the bitter consequences.
There was darkness and cruelty in how she dealt with the characters and yet, and yet…she got it so RIGHT.
And it definitely does affect how I read the CS series now and I don’t like her for that at all. But if I had the choice to go back and not read it…I would still read it.
Oh my GOD, yes. Yes. I’m with you on that final sentence. It’s one of those books that I can’t step back from now – and wouldn’t want to.
I loved it – it gave Jo the comeuppance she so richly deserved. Let’s face it, any grown woman who tried to interfere in her old school in the way she did would have her hat handed to her pretty smartly! I felt sorry for Len, and not totally convinced by her, but Margot was a gem! The nun from Hell. I was sorry Jack took the easy way out, it seemed out of character, especially for a Catholic with such strong faith as he had.
I always struggled with Margot’s Nun fate…!
Hey, this is Kankurette from Twitter, and I really like your review. I reviewed it on Amazon a while ago and also gave it 3 stars. I followed the pingback and I have to say, the comment calling it ‘the epitome of evil’ is a bit much. It’s basically a darkfic. It’s not Mein Kampf. It’s not even the darkest fanfic I’ve ever read and it does have positive moments. I got the impression that Williams actually did like the series – the way she writes about the scenery in the Welsh mountains is something. Plenty of CS fans like the series, but think OOAO and Joey are a bit much (although they’re both lovely characters as kids). I know I wanted to smack OOAO for the way she treated Naomi, and don’t get me started on how Joey is always held up as the Best Head Girl And Mother Ever (agreed with you on Triplets and when I heard about the bit with Margot, it put me right off).
Margot was brilliant. I liked how she used her anger for good rather than evil. Con, always the most neglected triplet, really came into her own. And I loved how Miss Annersley was written – Williams clearly liked her (it’s one of those books / fics where you can tell who the author likes!) Jack also came across as more humanised, though I agree that THAT bit was really OOC. My other big beef was the lack of Daisy Venables – I get Robin not being around, since she’s a nun in Canada, but Daisy didn’t get one mention. She’s one of my faves. Boo hiss.
I meant to say ‘something I can see EBD would have written’. Oops.
Thank you so much for this. I really love hearing people’s thoughts on this book,
(And YES re Daisy Venables. I love her! I miss her after Rosomon-ificiation!)