This is the first of Pamela Cox’s sequels to the Malory Towers books. I wrote a bit about the six new books here, and have just got around to reading the first one.
My initial impressions
Within the first few pages I realised that these continuation books might just be OK. I was pleased to see that the language retains the flavour of the original with plenty of uses of jolly and your people etc. I wouldn’t say the writing instantly grabbed me as identical to Blyton’s, but copying her style exactly is difficult.
We get a brief glimpse of Darrell and Sally in the first chapter, almost as if they are passing a metaphorical baton to Felicity to continue the series, and Mr Rivers says something that sounds very much like something Blyton would write:
‘That’s what comes of wrapping children in cotton-wool,’ remarked Mr Rivers. ‘It would do young Bonnie the world of good to be sent to a school like Malory Towers, where she could mix with other girls and learn to stand on her own two feet.’
It’s almost Miss Grayling-esque wisdom, in fact. I’m jumping way ahead now, but there’s another quote I really liked, from Miss Potts this time.
‘There is no doubt that Susan has more confidence in herself than Felicity. However, I have always felt that young Felicity was a little overshadowed by her older sister. Darrell was so popular, and such a success at Malory Towers – especially in her last year, when she was Head Girl – that Felicity was always known as her little sister and never really came into her own. She has always been less sure of herself than Darrell, and less forthright in her opinions. Yet she is a very strong, determined little character and, now that Darrell is gone, I think that the time has come for Felicity to shine.
related post⇒Miss Grayling’s Girls
There are actually several different storylines running through the book, some of which collide in unexpected ways.
First we have Felicity’s neighbour, Bonnie, who has latched onto her. Felicity isn’t at all keen on this new friendship as Bonnie is rather drippy and annoying, but as she is also rather an invalid Felicity is kind to her. She feels safe in the knowledge that she can escape to Malory Towers for most of the year and thus escape Bonnie’s clutches, too.
Then there are the two new girls at Malory Towers. One is Freddie, a cheerful girl who enjoys jokes tricks and the other new girl is Amy Ryder-Cochrane. Amy is, to put it mildly, a snob. She has previously been to an exclusive boarding school, called Highcliffe Hall, where maids unpack your trunks and there’s a heated indoor pool, so she looks down on Malory Towers.
Another girl new to the form, but not the school, is Veronica who has been left down from the previous form. Veronica is a bit of a Gwendoline Mary in that she is spiteful and not well liked. She makes friends with Amy (in an attempt at social climbing, I suppose).
The relationships between these girls and the established North Towers girls of the third form provide most of the storylines for the book.
There is rather a lot of scheming in this story, with Felicity, Susan, June and our other familiar faces trying to alternately squash the new girls and turn their attentions elsewhere.
Bonnie turns up at the school (this was quite obviously going to happen before they pointed out there was an empty bed in the dormitory!) and tries to resume her friendship with Felicity, but Felicity tries to palm her off on Amy instead. Amy accepts this as they have a love of fashion in common, but Veronica is irritated at losing her grip on Amy.
Freddie makes friends with June, but June feels threatened in her role as chief trouble-maker and joke player, and so involves Freddie in a foolish plot involving Amy’s grandmother to distract her.
Everything comes out all right in the end, of course, for everyone, and various hard lessons are learned by most.
Only a few of the plots are new to us – some are re-used just like Blyton often re-used plots. Veronica being left down is not dissimilar to Moira and Catherine in In the Fifth at Malory Towers, as all these girls were unpopular and that contributed to them being left down. What’s interesting is Pamela Cox seems to have Blyton’s disregard for any sensible schedule of schooling, and Veronica being left down is a big deal despite her only having been in the third form for one term anyway.
Although Amy and Maureen Little are very different, their comparisons of their old schools to Malory Towers are taken the same negative way by the other girls, and in fact the same could be said of Amanda Chartelow.
Didn’t she realise that it simply wasn’t done for a new girl to criticise everything like this?
– Very similar is said in Last Term at Malory Towers
‘Dear me,’ said June smoothly, walking over to Amy. ‘What a come-down for you having to rough it with us at Malory Towers.’
– Also June is really channelling Alicia here.
The pranks played on Felicity echo those played by Gwendoline in First Term at Malory Towers, too.
How does it compare to Blyton?
Over all I think it’s actually a good boarding school story. There’s plenty of interesting things going on and the different plots and new characters are woven together cleverly. I think if this was a book set in a different boarding school with brand-new characters I would rate it reasonably highly in an ‘If you like Blyton’ sort of way. The fact that it’s trying to emulate Blyton and carry on with established characters means I am going to have much higher expectations, and be harsher in my judgement of it.
As I said at the start of the review, a flavour of the original books is kept with the language used, which is really important in helping this book seem a natural continuation of the series. Although we are focussing on a different group of girls the transition isn’t too jarring as we have had chapters dedicated to Felicity’s form in the previous books.
I’ve also already said that the writing doesn’t quite match up to Blyton’s but I would find it hard to pinpoint the exact differences. There isn’t often a clear sense of Blyton would never say that (except maybe for a description of an aquiline nose) or anything terribly jarring, but the book doesn’t have Blyton’s easy style. There are various paragraphs you could think it was Blyton, but it doesn’t usually last long.
‘Look everyone, it’s Felicity! Did you have good hols?’
‘Hallo, Nora! Goodness, don’t you look brown?’
‘I say, isn’t that Pam over there, with her people? Pam, come and join us!’
‘Have the train girls arrived yet? My word, isn’t it super to be back?’
– Pretty Blytonian, don’t you think?
One thing I noticed is there are quite a lot of long-winded explanations, reminding us of plots from previous books and describing the thought processes of the girls in detail. A few times I thought that Blyton would have conveyed the same information in less words, or left more to our imaginations. That’s not to say the writing is at all bad it’s just different, which is a problem when you try to seamlessly continue a series.
The extract below, I am almost certain did not occur in the actual Last Term book, but it has been shoe-horned in to give a reason for Veronica to dislike Felicity in particular, though it’s not the best example of long-winded-ness.
‘You had better watch your step, Felicity,’ said Julie, with a frown. ‘Do you remember how your sister, Darrell, caught her snooping around in the sixth’s common-room last term?’
‘Yes, I remember,’ said Felicity, with a grin. ‘Darrell made her write an essay on respecting one’s elders, and got her to read it out to the whole of the sixth form. But I don’t see what that’s got to do with me!’
For me there’s too much inner-thoughts and machinations,
But Veronica hadn’t been in the dormitory earlier and had only just met Amy, so she couldn’t possibly know anything about her. Perhaps Veronica really had changed her ways, and was being kind and unselfish in putting Amy at her ease. But somehow June doubted it.
The girl brooded on it during the drive to the restaurant. Perhaps she had been spending too much time with Amy and neglecting Felicity. Although it had been Felicity’s idea for her to make friends with Amy in the first place, so she ought to understand. But Bonnie had, in her own way, become quite fond of Amy as their friendship grew, and she certainly enjoyed her company. Maybe Felicity had sensed this, and had gone off with Veronica to get back at Bonnie. Yes, that was the only sensible explanation, for Felicity couldn’t possibly like Veronica! Bonnie made up her mind that she would devote more time to Felicity when they got back to school, and show her that their friendship was still important to her.
These are only two of the lengthy looks we get inside the heads of various girls as they try to figure out each others’ motivations and make plans of their own.
I do think it’s clear that Pamela Cox is either a fan of the series or has carefully read all the books and taken note. There are some pleasing details included, such as one of the teachers remarking that It’s a wonder she [June] and her cousin, Alicia, haven’t turned my hair grey between them. Words to this effect are also used in the original series. She also includes mention of Bill and Clarissa (and their riding stables), and Amanda, as Games Captain, is there coaching the younger girls still. None of it seems forced or awkward, even if some of the reminder/summaries are a bit long and unnecessary.
Mam’zelle Dupont is as silly as ever, saying pulling my foot instead of pulling my leg and confusing Amy Ryder-Cochrane with Ryder-Cockhorse, as in Ride a Cock-horse to Banbury Cross. These aren’t her best misunderstandings but Pamela Cox has given it a good go.
There are some contrivances such as the never-mentioned-before neighbour Felicity’s age, the girls suddenly being able to wear their own clothes and wander off into town or along the cliffs whenever they feel like it (and not in a sneaking off way). Miss Grayling suddenly has a private garden, and Mrs Rivers becomes so kind she accompanies Veronica, a relative stranger, to chat with Miss Grayling. But then again Blyton wasn’t averse to contrivances to further her plots so I can’t be too critical of these!
Pamela Cox has also introduced a few new teachers (in passing) and given some girls surnames, and fleshed out their roles.
My one problem with the book is the storyline involving Amy’s grandmother. In short, they haven’t seen each other in years due to a family issue, but she moved close to the school to try to get to know her.
Firstly, several third formers bump into the grandmother and get a detailed story all about Amy’s family, these girls are complete strangers to her! Secondly, if you ignore that, the story is actually very interesting and yet it gets completely ignored for a lot of the book while the girls fight and fall out etc. When we do finally find out what it’s all about, it seems rather anti-climatic, not helped by great swathes of explanations into all the ins and outs of it.
Ok I lied, I have a second issue. And that is that in Blyton books good characters don’t lie. They will do almost anything to answer a question in a way that is technically the truth but without giving away a secret. Yet Freddie blatantly lies to Amy’s grandmother (egged on by June and in a way trying to be kind, but still) and Felicity tells a whopper to Mam’zelle Rougier after a joke. Talking of which…
Well, it wouldn’t be a Blytonian school book without some practical jokes, would it! We see a fair bit of Felicity’s class in Last Term at Malory Towers, and much of it revolves around them playing practical jokes as the sixth formers are too staid and sensible.
We get three jokes in this book, which are carried out with varying degrees of success.
First is what amounts to a self-tanning soap. June intends to plant it for Amy to use, but Freddie manages to get Mam’zelle Dupont to use it instead. It’s quite funny, actually, though a bit reminiscent of Darrell painting a chalk ‘oy’ on the piano stool and angering the other girls. June isn’t impressed that Freddie took the initiative and went one better on her trick.
Second is a decent one with a fake spider. Mam’zelle Dupont would absolutely have a fit over a large, hairy spider.
Lastly, June finally plays a trick on Mam’zelle Rougier, which is supposed to be impossible. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem plausible at all. She basically hides in a store cupboard (a contrived, suddenly-there-but-always-locked cupboard with keys easy to steal) and pretends she’s become invisible.
Mam’zelle Rougier is too smart to fall for that! I mean June is in a cupboard shouting about how she’s still in her seat. Her voice would give the game away, not to mention the great obvious door right behind her desk. She also sneaks in and out of the cupboard more than once, absolutely silently, without being detected by sensible and suspicious Mam’zelle Rougier.
Over 2,000 words later, and I think I’m done reviewing this book.
To summarise: it’s a good boarding school story with some convincing Blytonian touches, but it doesn’t consistently keep up that standard. It’s absolutely not terrible as I thought it might be. I will definitely read the other books as I’m intrigued by the blurbs.
Have you tried any of Pamela Cox’s books? What did you think of them?
Next review: Summer Term at Malory Towers by Pamela Cox