23 September 2010

Last Term at Malory Towers part 1

So we are coming to the end of this moving tale of school life and cultural indoctrination. It brings a tear to my eye to see all these little brats all grown up and ready to be inflicted on society.

In a small segue, I was quite excited that seven Blyton manuscripts were bought this week by Newcastle Library to prevent them going into private hands. One of them was this book!

Book six I will call “Attack of the Nouveau Riche”. I promised you that I would show you what happened when the ‘wrong sort’ were allowed into the Facility, and I shall deliver ... in the next post.

I’ve split this up for a reason. I loathe this book. It’s badly put together, disjointed and confused. The side-stories that I’ve excised and given their own post are really just put in so that something happens in the story – whenever something bad happens, Darrell just “Oh that’s just too bad, but I won’t let it spoil my last term, so I’ll just forget about it ... la la-la la-la ...”. Of course, she does this with the Gwendoline story, but Gwen is the true hero of the story, so I’m not putting her in a corner.

Anyway, the story.

As far as Darrell is concerned, you can basically ignore her for most of the book – Enid does. She’s now Head-Girl of the school, and well on her way to adult bovinity (it’s something that I have noticed. All the teachers and grown-ups seem to be extremely stupid. They are always surprised and always at a loss to figure out how the younger kids manage their ‘ingenious’ tricks. It’s almost as if their brain switches off after a certain age … actually, that’s it! It’s always annoyed me that the end of Enid’s school series seem to imply that life is over … and maybe it is. Children get sent to school to be ‘educated’ and once the indoctrination is complete they are sent out into the world as drones, placid, unimaginative and completely devoid of that spark of individuality that defined them as children. The fire dies out, and they live out their lives with only the pilot light on … look at me getting all poetical.). Anyway, She’s being driven to school for the last time and is quite miserable over the whole process.

As the reader, you get drawn into this fit of nostalgia. I read it again waiting for Hedwig to be killed (if I just spoilered HP for you, too bad. It’s been out for years now, and I can’t pander to those who are waiting for the movie. And yes, that is a message to my sisters who complained about me spoilering Anna Karenina for them), thinking again that this was one of the true parallels between the two grand dames. Nostalgia at the beginning of a last book is just self-indulgent.

So, Darrell’s boring, and all of the sixth-formers are disposed of in the first few chapters. Mary-Lou is going to become a children’s nurse (and marry a doctor – Oh I can see it a mile away!), Alicia, Sally and Darrell are off to St Andrews University (cough findahusband cough), Bill and Clarissa have bought a stable and are going to start a riding school (did you notice the part where they BOUGHT a farm? No talk of a husband … but two girls living together is apparently quite acceptable), Maureen is going to become a secretary (pleb), Irene and Belinda are off to Guildhall to be all arty and stuff, and Gwendoline – well she’s apparently off to finishing school (but more on that soon). So we can forget the oldies. They’re all very maudlin about leaving school and this being the last time that they will do this and do that … GAH!

And Gwen? Well, Gwen comes into her own. This really is the basis for my absolute love of this character. Forget about the sympathy you have for the bullied misfit, Gwen gains depth at the end of this series – depth that is really quite beyond Enid, and possibly depth that wasn’t intended by the author – but depth nonetheless.

Enid is at her vicious best at the beginning of the book. Gwen keeps telling everyone about a fight she’d had with her dad over finishing school. He wanted her to get a job, and she thought that was too plebeian and wanted to follow her mother’s plan of going to finishing school. Gwen’s dad really doesn’t hasn’t done himself any favours in the past be being such an absentee father and leaving her with her mother (and that governess who is having it off with either [or both] Gwen’s mother or father, because why else would she still be in the house when Gwen is 18?), because when intimations are made that he is ill, Gwen brushes it off as being a claim similar to her own or her mother’s claims of illness (and we all know Gwen’s track record).

Towards the end of the book, disaster strikes. Gwen’s father is struck down with some mystery illness – one so bad that he may die. Gwen rushes home, convinced she’s missed her chance to make it up to him.

It’s here where Gwen really comes into her own. After a couple of weeks (the next chapter really) She writes a letter to Darrell, letting her know that her dad survived, but will be an invalid for the rest of his life. Unaccountably, this means that all their money is gone too – but you know, karma and all. So Gwen looks like she’ll have to financially support her family from now on … and she’s calmly accepted it and is ready to do so. She ends the letter by asking the girls to keep in touch.

Darrell’s response is sickening. She’s happy that Malory Towers has rubbed off on her and writes back out of pity. Pity? WTF? Gwendoline just showed that she is ten times the person that any of the others there, and they PITY her? What proper adversity have THEY suffered? What also sickens me is Enid’s attribution of influence to the school, by having Grayling wisely say that this adversity ‘could be the making of her’. That this proves true does not mean that the credit goes to the school. Gwen’s spent her whole school career being bullied, isolated, put down and used, and when push comes to shove, she doesn’t back down This letter is really why I am a Gwen fan.

But Enid is happy with the sappy, poor Gwendoline end. The story winds up after this. Nostalgia comes back with a vengeance. A last this, a final that. In the last pages, Sally and Darrell and Alicia have a moving scene where they ‘pass the torch’ to Felicity and June (I kid you not – they use that phraseology – carry the torch, hold the standard ... Almost warlike in its tone). It’s quite a frightening moment: yes we do want the grand traditions of brainwashing, bullying and classism carried on from generation to generation. Well done Enid!

And then it closes, with Enid dropping in to personally say goodbye. I hate this device. It is so manipulative. There is a feeling of loss associated with the action of saying goodbye – it’s said as Darrel drives away, so we are stuck at this damn prison with Darrell off on a new adventure to which we are not invited. I always hate the end of books for that very reason – the whole what happens next? But Enid just manipulates the reader. She makes you miss the damn girl. It’s like an abusive relationship – what she’s done in the past is forgotten and we’d probably happily go back to her in another book ... until she loses it and hits someone again ...

GAH! I could talk about this all week, but I’ll stop. There’s more to come – basically the side stories. And the nouveau riche ... never forget the nouveau riche!

15 September 2010

Prep and house-mistresses

I had decided to post my latest essay for class up here, as it was a lyrical essay about Enid and the various updates done to her over the years, but two things stopped me:

1/ I haven't actually handed the essay in, and if they run it through turnitin, I may have some explaining to do ... which would be awkward
2/ I already covered the underlying issue in an earlier post

So, I'll put it to you. I'll put up the first paragraph and ask you if you would like to read it (at a later date, when I've well and truly handed the blighter in)

Hem, hem:

"A couple of months ago, the dedicated rose up. Cardigans fuzzed and tweeds burred. Battle lines were drawn in ink. It was an outrage, they cried, it was a travesty. Forums het up until they became incandescent as the dedicated protested (nearly in caps) that it would never be done to Dickens or Shakespeare.

The unthinkable was happening. Enid was being tampered with.


And one of my favourite descriptions, just for good measure:

" ... we have the devoted Enid-ites, epitomised by the image of an aging and be-cardiganed man who teeters just this side of creepy (and possesses more information about girls’ boarding schools than is seemly)..."

If you want to read about Enid being edited again, do let me know, and I'll post the essay in full in a couple of weeks.

Tally Ho!

02 September 2010

In the Fifth at Malory Towers

Sorry about the delay in posting – I couldn’t bring myself to post about this book, plus, I’ve been reading Anna Karenina and that’s been taking all of my time lately. I have an ever-growing pile of books to read that are stuck at the AK traffic jam. Anyway, onwards and upwards!

I do like the fact that a friend of my sister was reading Malory Towers for the first time recently (she is 31). I’m not certain if she reads this blog, or whether it was a spontaneous Blyton reprisal (this friend was responsible for my introduction to Five Go Mad in Dorset some years ago), but I was vastly amused when she begged me not to spoil the end of the last book. I was amused for two reasons:

1/ The idea of Blyton having any level of suspense for a reader over the age of 12 just tickles me
2/ The fact that she hadn’t finished it – seriously, these books you can read in one sitting.

Right, book 5.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s all feel-goody and light, on the other, it’s saccharine and plot-device-y. It feels rather like a filler book than an actual part of the series.

Storyline: It’s the term after book 4 and all the girls are relaxing after a heavy term. Then they get the news that they are in charge of the end of term entertainment (which, apparently, is quite a big deal, despite us never knowing of this event’s existence before …). They decide to put on a pantomime – Cinderella to be exact – in a move that is so freaking pedestrian and narrative vehicle-y that it makes my eyes bleed.

By a peculiar coincidence, the form happens to have a composer (Irene), a set designer (artist Belinda), a costume designer (previously unknown, but apparently long term inmate Janet), and a voice coach (Gwendolinitis recoveree Mavis). Unimportant people from other towers fill in other roles, but they aren’t worth Enid’s notice (although she throws the names around in quite a confusing manner). Then, in the manner of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Enid lets us in on something. Darrell – thug Darrell, who usually expresses herself best with her fists, is an aspiring writer – and is given the task of writing the script.

WTF? How is it that it has taken 5 books to get to this information about our Heroine? This caused me some concern. What has Enid really told us about Darrell?

1/ She likes sport
2/ She’s sort of smart
3/ She has anger management issues
4/ She has a Boring BFF (capital B)
5/ She has Anger management issues (in case you’ve missed me beating you over the head with that fact
6/ She Loves Her School

I’m writing this list, wracking my brains to figure out what Darrell really is like. It’s stumped me. She is a total blank. She’s not so much one dimensional as without any dimension at all. I mean, it’s hardly surprising that she loves her school, given her starvation of affection at home (it’s not as though her parents HAVE to send her away to school – I presume that there’s a number of perfectly decent schools nearby that they chose to not send her too – they must really like being empty-nesters or something).
And now we learn that she likes writing. And according to Enid, she does a jolly good job of writing the panto, resulting in a bang-up script. Well done Darrell – scooby snacks all round!

There is, of course, tension. New form-bitch Moira (left down from the previous term) has megalomaniacal tendencies and much drama ensues – culminating in several cast members quitting the panto. The Suspense, the Angst! It’s all edge-of-the-seat stuff, I tell you. What I really love about this is the skewed logic Alicia displays when Darrell begs her to come back. She says that she wants to, but that she never goes back on her word because that is weak … and Darrell accepts that? If it had been me I would have slapped her for being such a stupid, self-centred bitch. Or at least told her that pig-headedness is not strength …

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing with the next generation. Not with Felicity, of course, as she is now in line with the regime and has been rewarded with a spot on a Lacrosse team, but with June. June is getting into trouble constantly with the fifth formers, who are happily testing out their brand-new ‘punishment books’ on her (apparently senior students can make junior students do strange things like learn poetry as a punishment – ever notice that these magical items have never been mentioned before. PLOT DEVICE!). June is ticked off particularly by Megalomaniac Moira, and is starting to feel the want of motherly love about the place. So, she does what any pissed off teenager out for revenge would do – she starts sending anonymous notes to Moira along the lines of “You’re a bully and no one likes you!".

Shocking stuff, right? Moira is stoic about it, but is secretly upset, because deep down she just wants to be liked by people (I especially like the part where she is worried that the writer could be her sister – what familial affection!). Then the unthinkable happens: June is found out – by Mam’zelle of all people. All hell breaks loose – and everyone is so surprised that it’s clearly-typecast-as-school-baddie June who committed the heinous crime. June is expelled, but Moira nobly goes in to intervene and gets June unexpelled (the really funny thing is that all this drama takes only 1 chapter – that’s just a couple of pages).

Now, here’s the thing about June’s letters. They may be mean and underhanded, but what else would you expect of a thwarted, rebellious teen? How many times did you write a letter to someone telling them EXACTLY what you thought of them? Or imagined writing one? Teenagers write notes for EVERYTHING – from “do you like me? Check yes or no” to “I HATE YOU. YOU ARE A ******* *****”. They don’t like confrontation, and notes give that. Plus any confrontation would have just resulted in more punishment for June.

Secondly, June keeps saying that she ‘didn’t know it was wrong’. I believe her. In a way, she was the most honest person in the school when it came to Moira. Everyone else was bitching about Moira behind her back, and MT penitentiary is not backward in having regime members tell renegades exactly where they are going wrong. June is actually doing Moira a favour in telling her what people are saying about her – but no one seems to feel guilty about how they’ve treated Moira. Gossip is encouraged in the regime – after all, every regime needs a propaganda machine.

Anyway, everything is finally cleared up and the panto, dogged by absolutely no rehearsals in the past few weeks, magically comes together on the night. Notable is the fathers ogling Alicia in her snug costume doing acrobatics (what do you think they are really saying when they marvel to each other “she could be on the London stage”?). It all goes swimmingly, and concludes with everyone yelling for the author. And we close with our heroine basking in the applause and thinking she may just have a career in writing. Enid really is manipulative: you close the book with a cheesy grin on your face (well I do) and then stop to wonder exactly WHY you are smiling when you don’t particularly like Darrell? GAH!

OH! And Gwen update! Gwen gets Gwendolinitis! New girl Maureen is foisted onto her after everyone else decides that she isn’t worth having as a friend. She’s meant to be Gwen’s twin in temperament, and Gwen learns a lesson about herself in the process. Of course, Maureen goes through her own hazing from the girls, who really go hammer and tongs for her (so far that they actually feel a little bad for a moment afterward, but it is soon squashed by the weight of their self-righteousness). Gwen does try to change, but no-one’s really interested in helping her do so, so her efforts AGAIN go unrewarded. Really, after part of the reason Maureen was foisted onto Gwen was to ‘teach her a lesson’, the least the girls could do was some follow up …

And Mam’zelle plays a treek! In what is my favourite trick of the series, Mam’zelle buys fake teeth and puts them on one Saturday, then goes around randomly smiling at people. I heart this trick – and the reactions it gets from all of the people she passes. They all keep wondering if she has a toothache!

Anyway, that is the fifth in this series … there’s only one more book before I move on to another of Blyton’s brilliance. Next up is nostalgia central, and although Enid doesn’t quite kill Darrell’s owl, she comes pretty damn close.

PS. I’m really sorry about all of the capitalisation in this post. My Shift keys and I seem to have an understanding at the moment …