Published in 2019 New Class at Malory Towers is a compendium of four new short stories set at Malory Towers. They are set during Darrell’s time there but each features a new girl joining the school.
The stories are:
- A Bob and a Weave by Patrice Lawrence
- Bookworms by Lucy Mangan
- The Secret Princess by Narinder Dhami
- The Show Must Go On by Rebecca Westcott
I have heard of the Guardian writer Lucy Mangan, and I know that Narinder Dhami has written the novelisation of the Malory Towers TV series and some additional Wishing Chair books. The other two, I have not heard of.
The internet tells me that Patrice Lawrence is known for writing Granny Ting Ting, Orangeboy, Indigo Donut and Eight Pieces of Silva and has won several writing prizes.
The plot of A bob and a Weave
I initially thought this story was going to be all about hair from the title, and it sort of is, though the bob and weave actually refer to boxing. Sport not being my thing that’s obviously not where my mind went first. Anyway, this review contains spoilers.
Marietta is starting Malory Towers and is reluctant to go. She almost echoes Elizabeth Allen of the Naughtiest Girl when her father agrees that if she still hates it after half-term she can come home, as she refuses to join in or get to like anyone because she plans to leave.
She has a lot more secrets than Elizabeth, though. Firstly she comes from a family of circus performers and doesn’t want the other girls to know in case they judge her (obviously she hasn’t read the St Clare’s books where Carlotta is widely accepted and liked). Then there’s her mother’s illness, we later discover that her mother is a boxer in the circus and has sustained a serious head injury which she is taking time to recover from.
And lastly, there’s the small matter of her stress induced alopecia which she’s hiding with a wig. That definition is never used in the book but I’m fairly sure that’s what it is, a she says her hair started falling out after her mother was injured.
So, Marietta goes to school determined that she doesn’t need to be there (she was previously taught by the circus conjuror), wanting to be at home with her mother and trying to hide three secrets, a recipe for disaster, surely.
She’s branded ?rude and stuck up by Gwen pretty much straight away as Gwen tries to touch her hair and Marietta pushes her away. It’s a gentle push but we all know how over-dramatic Gwen is and she acts as if she’s been hurled across the room.
The rest of the girls try to draw her out but have little luck, except for Darrell who manages to persuade her to try out for the lacrosse team. But when she is chosen and Darrell is not, Darrell is rather put-out. She’s not outwardly mean about it but she complains to the other girls.
Everything comes out after half-term as Alicia has been to a circus and seen women boxing – I assume it’s Marietta’s circus as that was nearby for her father to collect her at half-term and have a few days at home. She is scornful and saying it’s all fake and Mariette blows up to defend the boxers, ending up giving herself away on all three accounts.
The other girls, being the generally good people that we know them to be (except Gwen of course) do their best to make amends and at the end I think Marietta is much happier at Malory Towers.
How does it compare to the originals?
For me there are four main elements that I look at when comparing continuations to the original work(s). Your standards may vary, of course, as will how important each of the points are. I’d say that characterisation is probably the most important.
- Is it set in the same time, and is it updated in any way?
- Does it fit with the continuity of the series?
- Are the characterisations consistent?
- Does the author attempt to adopt Blyton’s writing style, and if so is that successful?
The setting and updates
Happily this is set in the 1940s or 50s with steam trains, governesses and circuses with animals in them. Saying that it isn’t very strongly flavoured as a period story, it’s too short to have space for fitting in a lot of references to place the time period. Money isn’t mentioned, for example, or gramophones or anything else that would date it. The language is fairly generic, so not a lot of golly goshes or anything particularly Blyton-esque, but it isn’t hugely modern either. I did note that Gwen is described as ‘whiny’ which stood out.
It doesn’t actively contradict anything that happens in the main series, but as with the St Clare’s fill ins, if you read them all in order things would stand out.
For example this must be set in either late in the second or early in the third form as Belinda has joined the school but Darrell has not yet made it on to the lacrosse team. In Third Form at Malory Towers Darrell is desperate to get on the team, and who is playing seems to be decided on a match by match basis. She is third sub for one match then makes it on to the team for the next, the decisions being posted on a piece of paper on the notice board.
In this short story she and Marietta try out, and Marietta is told she is on the team (seemingly permanently) moments after the practice game. Darrell is told she is not quite ready.
If you read this and then Third Form it would seem a little strange that Darrel doesn’t mention her previous disappointment, in fact it is presented as if this is the first time she has tried to get on the team (which of course it is).
There is also the matter of Mariette disappearing between this story and the rest of the books – but girls did rather do that in the main series.
I also noted that Darrell is described as having shoulder-length curly hair. At first we don’t know who the girl is and I’d not have guessed it was Darrell from that description. I’m not sure her hair is described in the books, but she is generally drawn with short hair and that seems to suit her practical personality.
On the whole I think this book did quite well. Gwen is recognisable as the vain and spoiled girl, talking about having to brush her hair 100 times a night and how a governess is much better than a school. She holds a grudge after Marietta pushes her and is the only one two crow when her wig comes off, which is all very Gwen-like.
Darrell is quite accurate too, keen to look after the new girl, encouraging her into lacrosse and being disappointed about not getting on the team. I’m not sure that Darrell would hold a lengthy grudge against a girl who got on the team ahead of her, new or not, and if she had been standoffish about it I’d expect her to apologise fairly quickly.
The other girls we see very little of – except for Alicia. Alicia is argumentative but we don’t see her cutting wit.
The reveal of Marietta’s secrets begins with Alicia badmouthing the women boxers, and then it all becomes quite bizarre. Marietta says it’s not true, and Alicia demands she says it to her face. Then, without waiting on a response Alicia accuses Marietta of stealing Darrell’s place on the lacrosse team. Alicia is known for being mean but this isn’t a calculated and cutting comment it’s more of a passionate accusation. Marietta has her mother’s boxing gloves and tells Alicia to put them on and hit her. Again, Alicia has no cutting remark she just sniffs the gloves and says yuck.
Marietta attacks her and somehow Alicia ends up with Marietta’s wig in her hands, causing her to scream and flail her hand, throwing the wig.
Obviously Marietta is extremely upset and later Alicia tries to make amends by chopping all her hair off at the scalp. This just strikes me as very un-Alicia-like. Although she can be very sharp with people she is also more than capable of making a sincere apology when she knows that she’s in the wrong. She does apologise, but by cutting off her hair she’s making it all about her which isn’t like Alicia.
Going back to continuity I find it hard to believe that something as drastic as cutting all your hair off would never be mentioned again at school. Blyton isn’t known for massively harking back to previous books as each book is supposed to be a complete story which can be enjoyed by itself, but the school books (and many other) do contain references to earlier books. Admittedly Blyton’s continuity wasn’t always great and she often wrote things that either directly contradicted previous books or at least seemed odd given past events, but she was churning out massive quantities of books. If you’re writing a short story and you already know the contents of the next book it should be far easier to avoid such things.
Patrice Lawrence makes no attempt to mimic Blyton’s style. I wouldn’t say that is necessarily a bad thing as a badly mimicked style is usually much worse than just writing in your own style.
As above the language is not particularly of the time, but everything else is Lawrence and not Blyton. The entire story is told from Marietta’s viewpoint, meaning that we don’t know any of the girls’ names until she knows them. This is rather odd for a Malory Towers story where although Darrell is the main character we get insights into all the other major characters. It rather felt like being stuck in a box and only seeing out a small hole.
There are several ‘flashback’ memories from Marietta, exposing information about her circus life and the circumstances of her mother’s injury so we spend quite a lot of time in her thoughts whereas Blyton usually kept inner monologues to a minimum.
This wasn’t a bad short story but I feel like Marietta had too many disparate secrets. Obviously being in a circus led to her mother boxing which led to her injury, but it all felt like too much. She was embarrassed about her social standing, about her appearance and reluctant to tell anyone anything else about herself including about her mother.
The ending was also plain silly as the argument between Alicia and Mariette escalates rather ludicrously. They are disagreeing about the boxers and then Alicia throws in the accusation about the lacrosse team and the next thing they’re in a physical fight, it just makes no sense. I actually read a page twice because I was convinced I must have missed a bit between Alicia saying ‘say that to my face’ and ‘you stole Darrell’s place’, but no, she just makes that leap all by herself.
I had initially intended to read all four stories and review them but quickly realised that I would have too much to say for that. As it is I have written 1,900 words on a 9,000 word short story.