Book name: A Genius at the Chalet School
Author: Elinor Brent-Dyer
Publisher: W & R Chambers
Genre: School stories, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1956
Star Rating: 5/5
First up, some housekeeping. A Genius at the Chalet School was published in two parts, the first also called A Genius at the Chalet School and the second the Chalet School Fete.
This explains why Elinor Brent-Dyer’s story ends somewhat abruptly without the challenges surrounding the school’s genius being completely resolved. I’m reviewing the first part of the story only.
In Nina Rutherford, Elinor Brent-Dyer creates a likeable young woman with an impressive talent for playing the piano. This natural ability, like any genius, is combined with an almost infinite capacity for hard work.
The opening of A Genius at the Chalet School sees Nina dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death as he tried to save a young child from drowning. He understood her love of music and home schooled her so that she could devote all her time to it.
However, the aunt and uncle who become her guardians are determined to set limits to her practice time and this adds to Nina’s grief at having lost her father.
During their journey to England Nina and her uncle share a train carriage with some pupils from the Chalet School, and afterwards her aunt and uncle decide to send her there.
As usual with the Chalet School, the exemplary behaviour of the pupils is its best advertisement. Nina finds that the school is more sympathetic to her aspirations, in part because they are used to handle pupils with considerable talent.
The requirements for other lessons, such as languages, a hobby and PE are carefully explained in terms of how these will help Nina excel as a musician. That showed considerable emotional intelligence and was an element that I liked very much about the story.
Nina struggles to fit in at the start. This is a common theme with boarding school stories and almost all tales within this genre feature a new arrival in some way.
Notwithstanding the care with which she is treated there are some early challenges where she disobeys the rules set so that she can spend more time practising the piano than has been allowed in her timetable.
Despite this, she is a pleasant young woman whose motivation and work ethic are impressive.
There is plenty of room for descriptions of the school play since the main action is reserved for the second book in the pair. This gave A Genius at the Chalet School a fairly slow pace, which I didn’t mind too much. However, it could easily have been provided as a single story by combining it with Chalet School Fete.
It is more usual for Elinor Brent-Dyer to create a fully complete and satisfying narrative in each book, with the main character’s challenges resolved within it. I would have preferred this to be the case here because you always want to know what has happened to the main character by the end of the book.
This is one of the later books in the Chalet School series so Joey Bettany is grown up and married. She already has plenty of children and the elder Maynard, Russell and Bettany children are now old enough to feature as pupils.
One of the elements I love most about the Chalet School series is that we don’t lose sight of our favourite characters but follow them through into adulthood and see them as parents too.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor Brent Dyer.
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