The final Malory Towers book, and thus the final part of my revisit of these books, which I ended up picking up many months after I’d read book 5. In this one Darrell and Sally, and the rest of their form are returning to Malory Towers for their last term. Darrell and Sally and also Alicia and Betty are headed after that to college—St Andrews in Scotland, while Irene will go on to study music and Belinda art. Bill (Wilhemina) and Clarissa also have plans of their own to the others’ surprise. Being their last term, Sally and Darrell want to savour every moment and Darrell, now the head-girl, takes in the new students to Miss Grayling to hear once more the wise words she says to every new student. Being in the sixth form, they don’t think there will be any new students but there are in fact two—the domineering Amanda, a genius at sport who has come to Malory Towers because her own school Treningan Towers was destroyed in a fire, and is inclined to turn up her nose at the fact that Malory Towers isn’t as focused on sport as her old school was. And there is Suzanne, a French girl, Mam’zelle Rougier’s nice who speaks as all EB’s French characters too—with an exaggerated style but is still likeable and good fun. The term is as usual a mix of work and play, with some conflict thrown in.
Now that the sixth formers’ time at Malory is coming to an end, the only question before them is what they have made of their time at the school. While some like Darrell and Sally have learnt to overcome their flaws or at least be more in control of them, others like Alicia continue to be as they are but perhaps in a milder form. But of all of them, it is Gwen (Gwendolen Mary Lacy) who has gained absolutely nothing from her time there—and continues to be as she always was, no longer even listening to her governess Miss Winter who seems to be talking some sense rather than simply pandering to her now. Amanda too is difficult and clashes with the equally headstrong Moira, but when she decides to coach June, Alicia’s cousin, in tennis and swimming, as she sees a lot of potential in her, the project turns out to be good for them both. But there is also the inevitable clash of two rather strong personalities. Among the younger ones, the spoiled Jo Jones is a misfit, encouraged by her brash father to do just as she likes, and she ends up not just putting off her fellow students but taking steps from which there can be no return. And on a lighter note, since the sixth formers are now no longer in a position to play tricks, this too falls to the younger ones with the Mam’zelles once again being at the receiving end.
This was an enjoyable close to the series with both light moments as well as grave ones. Many of the girls have their certificate exams to take though Darrell and Sally don’t find it as hard since they have been putting in work consistently. But academic issues apart, there are plenty of dilemmas and crises in some of their lives. Gwen for one refuses to see sense, even though Miss Grayling charges Darrell to try one last time, and continues to pursue her own path. But lessons must be learnt in life and poor Gwen has to end up learning the hard way. Amanda too has to learn hers when she thinks certain advice is inapplicable to her. Among the younger ones too, this is the case for some of them. But whether the hard way or on their own, most of them at the end learn to face up to their flaws and perhaps try to work at being better. Of course (while not defending all of the characters), EB does have certain preconceptions or fixed ideas of how children should be to be ‘good’ or ‘appreciated’ as against being looked down upon which sometimes may be isn’t so accepting of difference; at the same time, I like the fact that even her main characters like Darrell and Sally are not without their flaws, and realistically, these don’t magically vanish or are magically overcome either but must be faced again and again, and dealt with.
But of course all is not as grave and bleak as I may have made it sound, there are plenty of fun moments too—no plays or performances but there are tricks, this time played by the younger ones—Felicity and June’s form—one involving a magnet and the Mam’zelles’ hairpins, which turns out so much fun that they decide to give the sixth formers a chance to enjoy themselves as well, finding excuses to play it in their form too, not once but twice, and with something further added on. Suzanne, the French girl, is like Claudine from St Clare’s, with ‘piggyhoolear’ English, and an outlook much like EB’s notion of ‘foreigners’ (and why she faces criticism) adds a further touch of humour.
I liked how the series wrapped up with us being told what lies ahead for all the students, even ones who’ve left, though overall, it was perhaps on a graver note than the rest of the books.
I’ll have a review of the full series up soon as well.