21 July 2010

Book 4 Again ... I know and I'm sorry, but this is the very last you'll hear about it!

Before I start, I just want to hand out a special commendation to Lol, who valiantly tried to remove the Blyton coloured glasses from an eight-year-old immersed in the Malory Towers chronicles. In the face of (what I understand to be) fanatic Blytonism, she laboured to suggest that Gwendoline wasn’t quite as bad as previously thought. The Blyton, unfortunately, was strong in that one … but I heartily endorse her de-programming efforts.

So, on to the book …

This is the last post on book 4. I promise. I didn’t mean to write so much on this book. It’s just that there is SO much packed into one little book that I just couldn’t let an issue pass.

And this is an issue that really pisses me off about our lady of Blyton. It really does. It’s lazy, unnecessary and manipulative and irks me no end.

It’s the introduction of the ‘next generation’.

That’s right. As well as the merry-go-round of new students in the dormy (ever wonder what happens to some of them? There is only space for ten or so in the one room. Scotch stereotype Jean and nervous wreck Ellen are too smart for the form, so have been moved up; American brainwash-ee Zerelda has gone back to the states to indoctrinate the continent of ignorant savages there into the ways of Our Enid; others from earlier books just disappear as they become superfluous. I actually think Enid drugs their tea at night and lobs them over the nearby cliffs, before returning to school and convincing the girls that “Violet doesn’t exist. There never was a Violet. Violet was just a dream …”. If she can get children to swallow some of the other crap she feeds them, why not this?), Enid also decided to go back basics and introduce two new first form characters.

There are two new ciphers in this book. Felicity, Darrell’s sister, and June, Alicia’s cousin, begin their school school career this term (with much copy-and-pasting from book one: train ride to school, wise words about school going quickly blah blah blah). Felicity is a cross between Darrell and Mary-Lou (all puppy dog eyes and strong sense of self-righteousness), while June is Alicia on steroids, exacerbated by a dash of Gwendoline stubbornness and all-round Blyton spitefulness. We watch their initial settling in issues, remember fondly reading about our own first term with Darrell (I’m not joking, there’s this indulgent and nostalgic ‘yes I’ve already done that’ sort of feel to the whole thing) and sagely agree that Felicity really shouldn’t be friends with June. It’s horridly smug and self indulgent – Felicity is such a dishrag there’s nothing to hate and June has not one redeeming feature in her make-up. I find it nauseating, which is interesting, as in previous reads I never really cared about the younger girls one way or the other. It’s just when you really look at these characters you see that they are so badly written as to be infuriating.

(Side note: E’s daughter Imogen is apparently the model for Felicity, but she was more like June in reality – the story goes that she, feeling neglected for being shipped off to school at an early age, she was rather a rebel and was almost expelled from one school – more about that in the next book.)

I really dislike this because there are already too many new characters to keep track of in each book. The narrative is divided up between two separate stories (rather than between characters in the one story), and in these later books, Darrell seems to take a back seat as the drama and comic set pieces are given to the younger, less ‘trained’ characters (to show the young readers the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour – because we will all benefit from a revision of the rules of the regime).

June in particular is set up to be re-programmed quite heavily, being a cross between Alicia and Gwedoline. Brilliant but stubborn, she is Enid’s vehicle for increasing the drama in the story. Darrell hates her, given her demonstrable resistance to the regime, and that, along with study stress, is a catalyst for her simmering Harry Potter-esque anger running throughout the book

In this case, June gets all bitter about being bullied by the older forms. Having some crazy idea that hierarchy shouldn’t matter, but also possessed of a very high opinion of herself, June gets bitter at the thought that she is henpecked by older girls. So when she finds out about (and joins in) the fourth form’s illegal midnight feast, she decides to turn herself in to look good to the teacher and ‘get back’ at the fourth form. It is about this time that Darrell finds out, leading to the smackdown scene that covers Darrell in shame for the rest of term (mentioned in the first post for this book).

Felicity, on the other hand, is all shy new girl throughout the book. She’s BFF’s with June until June’s smackdown, at which point she realigns herself with a more regime friendly, Darrell approved BFF (who is never actually seen, just spoken of, giving you an indication of the interestingness of her character). She doesn’t actually do anything, just add the ‘ooh, aah’ filler of a newbie at the school – Oh, and learn a valuable lesson for us all to take in and apply in our own lives. Today’s lesson is charismatic ‘bad boy’ types do not make good friends – stick with the regime friendly alternatives instead.

(Side note: If Bella from Twilight had read Blyton, that book could have ended sooooooo differently … she’d probably end up with Mike or something like that (since apparently she HAS to end up with someone). To be honest, it probably would have made the story more interesting …)

I truly loathe this introduction of the next generation. Not only does it take away from Darrell’s character development (which is something Enid would not want as she can’t do ‘growing up feelings’), the two new characters are just amalgamations and rehashes of extant characters. It’s done to reinforce this whole idea of ‘growing up’, in that the older characters are supposed to act in a more dignified manner, as befitting their advanced age (I believe they are all of 15 in this book). Once indoctrinated into the system, acting contrary to it is frowned upon – so we’ll never have the older characters acting out so badly as the younger girls: they’re meant to ‘know better’.

Also, in Enid-land, all adults are stupid (except her because she’s a super-cool freak with a photographic memory). A story about adults (even young ones) would be boring because they are all lacking in intelligence and overflowing in nuanced emotions that were beyond the literary grasp of our great lady. She doesn’t like writing about them. In her opinion, all your growing up is done by 18 and the rest of your life is just … nostalgia for those halcyon school days. The end of school is the end of life in E’s opinion, so it’s important to learn all the lessons you can before that dreadful day … and if you think that that is fatuous tripe, just wait and see what our Enid has in store for you later …

Right, so I’m done with book four (or as done as I can be in 3000 odd words – I could go on forever about why I wish Felicity could be killed off). Seriously, I’m actually going to move on … shocking I know. Given that I started reviewing this book before I went on holidays, it’s rather terrible that I’ve drawn the story out for over 4 weeks. My apologies for that.

Obviously, the next book is book 5, but the next post will be an examination of the regime in MT. All students are equal, but some are more equal than others …


  1. Reading this reminded me of why I may not have gone on to read the entire series - it felt too much like Darrell was being turned into a secondary character after we were built up to accept her as the protagonist. Of course, I could be completely wrong here, given it's a long time since I read the books.

    It's rather creepy the way the older girls decide who shall be accepted and who won't and who should be friends with whom. Maybe it's indicative of life outside the school, too.

  2. No, you're right on the money - each book basically gives a 'hello' to Darrell, then tells her to bugger off so they can follow all the new girls ...

    Basically, it's like a creepy molester teacher scoping out the fresh meat ...

  3. I was expecting a bit about Alicia being taken down a peg or two and her idiotic not recognising measles for a week and nobody else catching it in all that time as age coughed and sneezed it around the whole bloody school. Measles is contagious as all hell and everyone in that day and age would recognise the signs well before that. Stupid, stupid. And hate how if you aren't ubersmart you're brains don't work blah blah... STFU already....! Yet still I read them and find myself drifting back to those daydreams of midnight feasts and darning and lacrosse and being a brick and a good sport...!