Three Go to the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of my favourite films is Stagecoach, which stars John Wayne. There’s a shot in this film (which you can see here) that makes John Wayne a star. The camera swings into him with such exuberance, and then when it meets him, it keeps going and ends up framed on that face. This is a director making a star, and it’s the first thing I thought of when I reread Three Go To The Chalet School. This is a book where several big characters debut: Mary-Lou Trelawney, Verity-Ann Carey and Clem Barras, and it’s a book which features several of the landmark incidents of the series. You know the sorts of incidents I mean; they’re the ones that somebody indirectly mentions thirty seven books later and everyone laughs, and you’ve not actually read the book that the original incident occurs in, so you’re just all well whatever …
I’m digressing. Three Go To The Chalet School’s a well told book, and it’s purposeful and direct. A lot of it takes place outside of the school and I rather love that. Much of that also speaks to the calibre of the new characters we’re about to meet; the new girl usually gets a bit of backstory, but that backstory halts when they get to school. This time it doesn’t, and the adults remain constantly present throughout. I rather love that. The more I read these books, the more I start to realise that perhaps the great longevity of them is precisely that constant adult presence. It’s in the way that we see inside the staffroom (was it just me who was fascinated with what went on in there?) and become party to adult discussions. These are school stories, yes, but there’s a whole world in there. But then, isn’t that the girls’ school story genre in a nutshell? That expression of femine power and absolute strength, wielded in a constructed and fiercely delineated space of gender parity and uniquely formed ideology?
The school is the world, always.
One other thing to adore about Three Go To The Chalet School is how Brent-Dyer handles Joey. Joey, at this point, had undergone something of an awkward transition. Still at school, but not. Mother, lover, schoolgirl, adult, writer. And here, Brent-Dyer sort of manages to relax with her and step away from that awkward effort to pigeonhole a character who denies such easy categorisation. Joey Maynard climbs trees and then goes inside and darns socks. She helps people through deep, lasting trauma and she plays slides on the drawing room floor. It’s rather delightful because it’s so unforced and through that lack of concern, she becomes intensely real.
I lied. There is a final, final thing to adore about Three Go To The Chalet School and it is a moment right at the end of the book with Clem and Tony Barrass. I won’t outline the situation, just in case you’ve not read in it, but there is a line here that makes me cry, every time. It’s a line borne out of life and living and of hurting, I think, and it reminds me how good Brent-Dyer really really could be.
6 thoughts on “Three go to the Chalet School : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer”
I was really disappointed when I first opened this aged about ten as I imagined it would be the story of the triplets starting school. At the time I only had a handful of books, mostly early, but including New Mistress (which I think was the first I read). I knew Mary-Lou as a rather irritating prefect who annoyed Miss Ferrars, and I was initially resentful that she was butting in where I felt the trips should be.
I came round pretty quickly, and I must add this lovely summery book to my reread list. I’m currently dipping into the middle era books, which are some of my favourites. It is funny to think that the numbered list in the front of my Armadas was my only source of Chalet information in those pre-internet days!
The numbered list in the Armadas was amazing! I had one copy of Prefects in which I carefully ticked off titles 🙂
Just catching up with my blog reading, this was my first Chalet school book and I loved it. I also remember studying the list in the front of the Armada edition. I think I owned this book but most of them I read from the library.
What an excellent one to start with!
Have you read the hardback of this one!!
I have (but I’m just trying to figure out if I had by the time I wrote this review … not sure!).