Chester House Wins Through by Irene Smith

“Don’t forget the white sauce!”

[This has been on my TBR pile for a while, and today I felt like it was the time. I sort of thought it might be brilliant – I rather like it when books tell me off for waiting to read them – but reader, it wasn’t. However, Chester House Wins Through does have the the first ever ‘japes involving white sauce’ episode I think I’ve ever seen in children’s literature. Honestly, I can’t quite decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing…]

Chester House Wins Through by Irene Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m always fond of finding school story authors who are new to me; it’s a journey full of potential and hope and sometimes it works – as it did when I discovered Bessie Marchant. Now, I appreciate that Marchant isn’t technically a school story author, but rather a “LET’S GO EXPLORE THE EMPIRE GELS” kind of author but she does serve to make my point here and that’ll do for now. Sometimes picking books up randomly – especially when they look to be ‘your thing’ – can be incredibly productive. Sometimes, however, it isn’t.

And that brings us to Chester House Wins Through, a book strangely concerned with Talking About Things rather than Doing Things. There’s “hysterical” twins who make everybody laugh and marvel at their foolish ways (the amount of Suppressed Laughter in this book, my god, get a grip everyone). There’s a lot of girls talking meaningfully about things such as uniforms and hat badges and how this will bring honour upon the school, and there’s this Head Girl who Sagaciously Knows Things But Nobly Looks Away Whilst You Cry Old Thing, and it’s all sort of school story by the numbers without ever quite connecting. Nothing ever hits home (even the physical altercation between two of the juniors is resolved within a page) and so the overall effect is fleeting at best.

And yet there’s some interest here because books like this are indicative of the position that school stories had back in the day and how that position struggles to deal with things like “the sixties” and “liberation” even though the girls inside the book are in a post-war environment and refer to the war and to rations. Even that’s interesting because it suggests the key period for these books – they worked in the forties and they worked well. They just didn’t quite work well here.

Also, they work even less with subplots involving ‘somebody accidentally eating a whole dish of white sauce just to be polite’. I mean, you’d notice, right? You wouldn’t just eat a whole dish of white sauce to save somebody’s feelings? Would you? I mean, I don’t even know if you literally even could eat an entire dish of white sauce without having to stop and – you know – visit the bathroom with immediate effect.

Honestly, this book. I’m going to have to go and sit down to get over it all.

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