New Class at Malory Towers: Bookworms by Lucy Mangan


I’ve had this book ages but only recently read the first story, A Bob and a Weave by Patricia Lawrence. I wrote so much about that one short story that I’ve had to review each story in a separate post.


The plot of Bookworms

In a nutshell: Darrell starts visiting Malory Towers’ library and makes friends with the library monitor. Someone then starts playing pranks in the library and it’s up to Darrell to stop them.

There will likely be spoilers through the rest of the review, so if you don’t want the story spoiled I suggest you stop reading now.

Looking for a quiet place to sit Darrell ends up in the library where she meets Evelyn, the library monitor. Although the blurb of the book suggests that all the unfamiliar girls we meet are ‘new girls’ Evelyn doesn’t seem new, just new to us. She is older than Darrell and has clearly been at the school a while to earn library monitor status.

I really like Evelyn as I can really relate to her.

We use the Dewey Decimal System. Anything else is anarchy.

– Evelyn

My thoughts exactly, Evelyn.

She recommends that Darrell try The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which Darrell loves.

When she returns for more Evelyn points her to the Noel Streatfelds, only for Darrell to remark that He seems to write an awful lot about shoes. I can relate to that too, as in a job interview for the library I referred to D.H. Lawrence as she. I didn’t get the job that time, I’m not sure if it was because of that blunder, but probably not.

Then the pranks start. Evelyn finds a muddy heap of worms inside a Shakespeare book along with a note.

A few more bookworms to join your club.

Which is actually quite witty! Darrell recognises the handwriting as Alicia’s but out of loyalty she doesn’t tell Evelyn, but just has a word with Alicia. It had no effect as next there’s jam and bread in a cookery book, then the trickster really ramps it up by turning all the books the so that the pages face out, and not in the right order. Not only that but various books have been bent and bashed in the process.

It put me in mind of the recent (heinous) trend for backwards bookshelves, but I doubt the trickster was just making a style suggestion.

Darrell has had enough now and having confronted Alicia and Betty a couple of times without success decides to turn the tables and play a trick on them, with the unlikely help of Emily and Mary-Lou. Basically they pretend to have read that some worms are poisonous, and make the two of them believe that they’ve been poisoned. And thus ALicia and Betty are chastened and Alicia apologises to Darrell and Evelyn, and even hints she might use the library after all.


How does it compare to the originals?

As with the review of A Bob and a Weave I will look at four key points:

  • 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

It is still set in the past, and the library books are by Blyton’s contemporaries.

Series continuity

They mention the chalk trick as occurring in the last term, so this is towards the end of their second form. Marietta isn’t mentioned, so it’s hard to say if this follows on from the previous story or not.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was published in 1950, and White Boots in 1951, which places this story to 1951 or later. So a few years later than Blyton had in mind. She didn’t always write her books to fit in with real time (for example the Famous Five have 21 adventures over 22  real years, but if you account for time of year the books are set in they take place over 11 years, but the children only age about 5 years), but with Malory Towers being published one a year for six years, and Darrell moving up a form each year, it would make sense that her fifth form year was around 1950 when the book was published. She certainly wasn’t still in the second form then.

I did wonder if Malory Towers actually had a library, but yes, there is one solitary mention of it in the six books –

“I’ve had to help Potty with the books in the library,” went on Gwen. “Great heavy piles! It’s set my heart fluttering like anything!”

– Upper Fourth at Malory Towers

I think Blyton threw that in there randomly as it’s never mentioned any other time, and the girls never spend any time in there that we know of. It still strikes me as odd that this story asserts that no-one would think to look for Darrell[in the library], as she intends to be a writer and surely therefore enjoys books?

In fact it’s quite a big part of the book that Darrell isn’t really a reader but Evelyn persuades her. I suppose Blyton never really had Darrell read for fun, I just always assumed as a budding writer it went without saying.

There are at least two or three occasions where Betty is in the north tower second form common room, something that I don’t think ever happened in the real books. Betty and Alicia were in separate towers to keep them apart for one, something that would have been pointless if they were allowed in each others’ towers – it’s also said that girls sneaking to other towers for midnight feasts is a far worse offense than just having one for that towers girls. In Fifth Form they do gather all the fifth formers in the north tower fifth form common room, but that’s the only time I can think of, except for the already rule breaking midnight feasts.

Characterisation

Again, I don’t think this story gets Alicia quite right. She’s definitely mean but she is not cutting, she doesn’t have that sharp, dry wit. She’s jealous of Darrell’s friendship with Evelyn – that’s like Alicia – but the repeated attacks on the library aren’t. I’d think her more likely to put worms or something into a book right before Darrell returned it, hoping to cause a disagreement between Evelyn and Darrell.

At the end while I suspect that Alicia and Betty might fall for the poisonous worms trick, they’d be rather suspicious, being tricksters themselves. Even if they did believe it, I doubt they would run from the room wailing as this story has them doing. I think they’d walk off, heads held high after pouring scorn on the idea that they’d been poisoned.

The style

This is closer to Blyton’s style than the last one, but it doesn’t capture it entirely. The language is Blyton-ish with frightfully, awfully, and so on used just the right amount.


Overall

I enjoyed the library scenes and I really like Evelyn – it’s a shame that she’s a one-off character.

I’ll shelve that in my “uninformed opinions section”

– Evelyn

Alicia being the enemy two stories in a row was a bit much, though. Between the two they’ve turned her into a bit of pantomime baddie.

There are quite a few contrivances in the story, though I recognise that short stories don’t have the space to explore all the backgrounds.

Darrell ends up in the library as she needs somewhere quiet to sit – this could have been achieved in a few words about her being tired of Gwen boasting or Alicia teasing or anything. Instead the story begins with them going to the pool and she and Alicia tormenting Gwen in the water.

It adds that Darrell is already in trouble for teasing Gwen recently, and for rushed prep – neither are unbelievable but they do seem like an information dump of excuses to get Darrell into the library, especially when you add that her first two choices are the boot room which is being cleaned and a music room which is being painted.

Overall this was definitely a better effort than the first story, but it still didn’t quite get it right.

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2 Responses to New Class at Malory Towers: Bookworms by Lucy Mangan

  1. Anonymous says:

    I felt very similar about this book and was very excited before I read it before being quite disappointed. Having said this, the 3rd story is definitely the best character wise.

    Like

  2. hannah975 says:

    I’ve been wondering about the common rooms when I read Second Form as I took it for granted from the other books that each tower has its own common rooms. But there are several occasions where Betty is in the same common room as Alicia and the others (though I think no other girls from other towers are ever mentioned).

    At the beginning of the chapter “The Inivisible Chalk” it is said:
    “I’ve got it in my locker, in a box,” said Betty. “The common-room will be empty now. Come along and I’ll show you. It’s queer stuff.”
    The two girls went to their common-room. Betty opened her locker and took out a tin box. Inside, wrapped carefully in paper, was a thick slab of curious pink chalk.

    “Their common-room” sounds as if it wasn’t just Alicia visiting Betty in her common room.

    Betty and Alicia are in the same common room in “Ellen Has a Bad Idea” too:
    “Well, I must say Ellen isn’t much improved by being away for nearly a fortnight,” said Betty, one evening in the common-room, when Ellen had snapped someone’s head off, and gone out sulkily. “She’s just as snappy as ever—and she doesn’t look a bit well yet.”
    “Bad temper’s her trouble,” said Alicia. “I’m fed up with her. Always frowning and sighing and looking miserable!”

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