This summer I have re-read some of my all-time favourite children's books to discover whether I enjoy them just as much decades later. After the epic The Letter to the King by Tonke Dragt, I revisited my love for Enid Blyton by reading one of the St. Clare's novels for the Nostalgic Summer Re-Read challenge. This review was originally published here on Novelicious.
When I was about six years old I received what is still one of the best presents I've ever had: my mum's old Enid Blyton collection. It consisted of the St. Clare's books, Malory Towers, and a small selection of Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, and Adventure-series titles. From that moment onwards I was hooked on reading and for nearly 10 years I re-read at least the boarding school series several times a year. I also started to expand upon my collection of Enid Blyton titles at every possible flea market and second-hand bookshop occasion, and there were a lot of these during my childhood as I'm now the proud owner of several hundreds of her books; all the old versions that were translated into Dutch, with some titles in different languages too, and all still stored at my parents' place in the Netherlands – sorry mum!
Despite my obsession with the St. Clare's books in particular, and Enid Blyton in general as I read every possible book on her I could find (this was before the Internet existed) – I was mighty impressed by not only the wealth of books she wrote but also all her other ventures including producing a club magazine, writing short stories and doing a lot of good for children – I haven't actually read any of her books in about 15 years. So when the Novelicious Nostalgic Summer Re-Read was announced I knew it was the perfect opportunity to revisit one of my favourites.
Unfortunately I don't have access to my vast Enid Blyton collection here in the UK and I've just moved house so don't have a card to the local library yet either but, coincidentally enough, a few months ago I won a small Enid Blyton book collection and one of the titles included was The O'Sullivan Twins, the second St. Clare's title. I did contemplate for a bit if I should try to get my hands on the first book somehow first, especially as I hadn't read these stories in English before and so thought that with different character names I might get confused, but I tried a chapter and I needn't have worried, it felt as familiar as if I last read the books 15 weeks ago, and not 15 years!
For those unfamiliar with the stories (though is anyone, really?) they focus on Pat and Isabel O'Sullivan, two teenage girls who are a bit too stuck up for their own good. Their parents decide to send them to a more sensible boarding school: St. Clare's. While in the first book the twins are determined to not fit in and do everything they can to get back into their old, much more luxurious, boarding school, they soon realise that St. Clare's is actually a great place to be and they make quick friends with the other girls and most of the teachers; eventually even Mam'zelle Abominable, the French teacher nicknamed that way as she writes 'abominable' on all of the twins' work at first.
In the second book the twins are settled into their routine, but there are three new girls who provide lots of drama during the term: Alison, who is the twins' vain cousin; Margery, a rude and hot-tempered girl; and Lucy, who is lovely and talented and everyone instantly wants to be friends with, but who too has her own battles to face during the novel. And of course it wouldn't be a boarding school read if there wasn't plenty of mischief riddled throughout as well, from the magical midnight feasts to Janet playing tricks on a teacher.
Even when I read the Enid Blyton books several decades ago they were old-fashioned to me, as I had my mum's copies rather than more contemporary ones, which had updated the language. It was part of what I loved so much about them as it added to their charm and made them seem even more magical on top of the fact that they were set in England (which was very exciting to me at the time) and the girls got to sleep at their school! That was clearly the most amazing thing ever, and I desperately wanted to go to boarding school myself after reading these books.
The version I read this time around was far more modern both with the cover (see above, and I didn't like it at all) and the language changed to fit the modern young reader. However, thankfully the story has not been updated to include cellphones and emails, instead there were still plenty of mentions of the girls listening to a record player in the common room and writing letters to their family. I'm very glad that that has remained unchanged.
As for reading the story from an adult's point of view, I loved it just as much as all those years ago and I still want to have a midnight feast. Even though it merely consisted of tinned peaches, birthday cake and ginger beer (and I don't even like ginger beer!) it sounds so absolutely wonderful in the book. I almost feel like I really missed out on an important part of my childhood by never having had more of a midnight feast than some hastily devoured candy (which ended up making me feel ill!) one late night at summer camp.
The one thing I did notice, and that I didn't realise when reading these stories originally, is that everything is incredibly black and white, and the girls are really quite spiteful with their revenges when someone doesn't act the way they think they should. While it does backfire on them in this novel, from what I remember from the other titles they don't actually learn from it and they still view the other girls as either lovely and their best friend, or someone that ought to learn a lesson and will be ignored for weeks and/or suffer nasty tricks. I realise this was likely done deliberately to show girls reading the books what was right and wrong, but I don't think it will work with the modern generation who will see right through this.
Despite that though, re-reading The O'Sullivan Twins was an absolute joy, especially as just like all those years ago I couldn't stop reading it once I opened the book and so I ended up finishing it under my covers far too late at night. I don't remember doing that since the last Harry Potter book came out! Re-reading this book also made me remember how immensely fond I used to be of Enid Blyton's novels and I am now keen to revisit some of my other favourites from her as well; especially the Adventure titles, which was my second favourite series by her hand (swiftly followed by Malory Towers, Famous Five and Five Find-Outers).
What was your favourite Enid Blyton book? I know you will have one, so go to your box of childhood classics and dig it out for a well-deserved re-read. You won't regret it, trust me!