Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School is the sixth in the series and, fortunately for me, is still set in the Austrian Tyrol. Of the books I own, the Austrian years were my favourite and firmly put Austria on my travel wishlist. Although the later books, with their references to familiar characters, were pretty enjoyable too.
The book follows the travails of 14-year-old Eustacia Benson who, in the very first sentence, is described as “the most arrant little prig that ever existed.” The narrator makes no bones about the fact that the eponymous character is thoroughly unlikable. But deliciously detestable characters are exactly what make books fun. Even the ones who you want to rip out from the pages and smack, they work so well precisely because they push our buttons.
Eustacia didn’t evoke any such violent tendency on my part though. True, she’s selfish and self-righteous, randomly flies into a temper and, horror of horrors, tells tales (utter blasphemy in a school story). However, the way she casually breaks rules and makes enemies with brazen cheek made me laugh at her audacity more than anything else. Eustacia is thoroughly entertaining, she certainly doesn’t deserve the ire the narrator has in store for her. Heck, even Voldemort got off with mass genocide with nary a peep from a neutral narrator.
Through the rest of the book, Eustacia wages a perpetual war against the Chalet School darling Joey Bettany, is wholly ostracised for a fairly minor infraction and has the whole school baying for her blood. At one point, the entire school is asked for suggestions about the best way to tackle the unpleasant girl in a school of fairly well-behaved students. You almost have to feel sorry for the girl.
The book also includes a snowball fight (I only mention it because it had all the strategies of a battle, which I would have loved to be a part of), a feud between two forms, a half-term picnic where they end up getting caught in a snowstorm (of course they do! Nothing’s ever simple in the Chalet School world), pranks, a broken foot, a nearly fatal accident (another staple) and Bernhilda’s wedding, who was one of the original students of the school. An already-married Gisela (the school’s very first Head Girl) chooses to remain at home without explanation which, knowing Brent-Dyer’s ways, made me suspicious of a pregnancy.
The book’s Exciting Happening had Eustacia running away. I almost expected Joey to play heroine again and was thoroughly relieved that she didn’t. Apparently, she nearly died of pneumonia last term (in a previous book) which was reason enough for Brent-Dyer to lay off the damsel-in-perennial-distress, at least for this story. The book made for a great read, but then again, I’m biased towards the charming series, insanity and all. And the last chapter made me want to yell “I knew it!” in triumph – Gisela went and delivered her baby.
For other Chalet School shenanigans, look here.