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The O'Sullivan Twins

Review by Laura Canning (October 3, 2005)

The newly sensible Pat and Isobel O'Sullivan are preparing to depart for their second term at St Clare's, and it looks as if there will be no excitement at all now that they are such staid and useful characters. But wait! A letter arrives from their aunt, saying that their Cousin Alison is to join them at St Clare's this term. The reason? Same as the twins—she needs a good dose of sense (the various O'Sullivan parents clearly have no idea how to bring up their daughters). With trepidation, the twins say that Alison had better come and stay with them for a few days before term starts, so they can prepare her for St Clare's.

Alison's character is one that sits oddly with me in the St Clare's series, as I think Blyton treats her too harshly. Yes, she is what the girls call a 'little feather-head' (common sense pulls no punches), but she is basically a decent and kind-hearted person, with none of the faults of the more villainous characters in school stories, such as Malory Towers' Gwen. (Alison is much more likeable in Pamela Cox's St Clare's books, particularly Sixth Form at St Clare's.)

To be fair though, at first Alison is the worst kind of dim. Like the twins before her, she is horrified that the younger girls must wait on the fifth and sixth forms, and that the girls are expected to do their own mending, including sheets. Mrs O'Sullivan tells her that she should be OK here, as her mother has bought her all new things—which leads to the question, Do St Clare's make girls bring their own bed linen? Not according to the first book, where the beds in the twins' dormitory are nicely laid out with different coloured eiderdowns. Another instance where Blyton really should have had the earlier book beside her at the typewriter...

Apart from shouting at her when she accidentally burns the sports captain's prep, the girls are kind enough to Alison as the twins' cousin, although they are impatient with her vanity and her easy tears. But there are two other new girls to occupy their time—Lucy Oriell and Margery Fenworthy. Lucy is the archetypal school story girl—bright, kind and popular—although she is portrayed well, without the one-dimensional flatness this type of character can often have. Her father is a painter (we know this because he has long hair), and Lucy herself is a talented artist.

But Margery! Sulky, sullen, rude, antisocial... Margery rocks. She's one of my favourite Blyton characters and I think is portrayed with real skill in this book. The girls are puzzled as to why she's at St Clare's and in the first form—she won't tell them anything about herself and she is so tall they suspect she must be at least sixteen. She is rude in class, which the mistresses very surprisingly put up with, and strops around in a proper teenage huff. The girls decide to give her a chance—after all, reason the twins, we were pretty bad when we first arrived too, so let's give the Old School a chance to work its magic. The twins and their pretend 'Mummy and Daddy haven't sent us to an exclusive school so we're going to play a few jokes on the history mistress' rebelliousness were nowhere near as bad as Margery, who is a genuine sulky rebel, but she does seem to thaw a little when she is the only first former put into the team for the upcoming lacrosse match against Oakdene.

Before that though, Tessie from the second form organises a midnight feast (sigh) to celebrate her birthday. But there are too many girls in the form and not enough food to go round, so Tessie decides to invite only a few and keep the party a secret. ('Winnie, don't you think it would be better to share my things amongst a few of my best friends—and not give everyone only a taste?' 'Yes, I do think that,' greedy guts and best friend Winnie replies.) Tessie decides to invite three others from the second form plus the greedy Winnie (who'd probably count for at least two people anyway), and the twins and Janet from the first form, 'because they're good sports'. The girls also, most unusually, (probably Winnie's influence again) decide to borrow a frying pan from Gladys the scullery maid, and fry sausages. At midnight. The hedonists!

But the baddie of the book soon rears her dishonest head. This time it is a second former, Erica, who suspects that Tessie has a secret and determines to find out about it. Unfortunately for Tessie and Winnie, Erica sees Gladys with the frying pan and makes a guess that it's for 'Miss Tessie's party'. Gladys, typical Blytonesque working class simpleton that she is, crumples under the weight of class boundaries and forelock-tugging, and confirms that yes, the frying pan is indeed for Miss Tessie's party.

We are told that Erica would probably have been happy enough with finding out the secret, were it not for Tessie catching her sneaking a chocolate out of the box Tessie got for her birthday and offered round the class. I'm with Erica here—how can a girl be expected to leave a box of chocolates be when they're just sitting there, looking at her? Tessie, rather strongly methinks, ticks Erica off good and proper, and so Erica vows to spoil the party.

And spoil it she does, waking Mam'zelle up just as the girls are frying the sausages. Mam'zelle is tired and very grumpy this term, and nearly boxes Isabel's ears when Isabel asks longingly if they could just have a sausage before going back to bed... the girls are punished and vow to find out who the sneak is. This is revealed soon enough by the mouthy Gladys, and the girls send Erica to Coventry. Pat is the most vocal in the row over this, and Erica silently determines to get revenge...

A neat plot twist over this soon occurs, with the growing unpopularity of Margery. She is very rude to the history teacher and so the first form swear to have nothing to do with her (honestly, these girls. When a girl in my history class threw a pen at our teacher and stormed out in a fit of pique, we were all delighted at the drama!).

Margery's strength of character is shown really well in the next few chapters. As Isobel says later, she herself couldn't cope with being in the same situation as Margery—but Margery, while obviously upset, takes it on the chin and pretends not to care. But she too wants to get even with Pat after she overhears Pat reminding everyone not to cheer if Margery shoots a goal in the lacrosse match. And the girls stick to their word. Margery scores three of the four goals, but no-one claps or cheers. And, when Erica secretly ruins a jumper of Pat's and stamps Pat's nature work into the mud, the girls all blame Margery.

The twins discuss this at half-term with their mother and an old friend of theirs, Pamela, who says Margery used to be at her school but was expelled. The twins and Alison are dying to tell the others this, but the twins' mother wisely prevails, saying that Margery is obviously desperate for her secret to remain one and that the girls should let St Clare's have a chance. But there seems no hope of that as Margery is scorned by all for ruining Pat's work, and Alison then lets the secret out as she is so angry on Pat's behalf.

Don't want to give too much away here, but a Thrilling Rescue sees Margery a heroine and Erica, the louse, feel suitably conscience-stricken to own up. Miss Theobald tells Erica it would be better if she left St Clare's to start somewhere else, but that she must endure the final two weeks of the girls' contempt first. What a sense of horror I used to get as a kid when St Clare's or Malory Towers didn't work for someone! Gasp! Imagine being asked to leave, or even expelled! Of course I wouldn't have behaved like that if I were at St Clare's...

Margery explains to Lucy and the twins why she's so difficult—her father remarried, her stepmother didn't like her, and her father, whom she idealised, took her stepmother's side. Honestly! Didn't anyone know anything about parenting in the 40s?

The twins and Lucy fix that though by writing to Margery's father, and Margery is thus a Cured Case, entering into St Clare's life with gusto. She makes friends with Lucy, and is instrumental in Lucy being able to stay at the school after her father has an accident and can't paint any more, so not being able to pay the fees (feckless long-haired artists, never thinking of the future). So both new girls are sorted out by their time at St Clare's, and even Alison is deemed not to be as 'feather-headed' as when she arrived!

The last excitement of the term is with Mam'zelle, who genuinely thinks she is going mad when Janet puts beetles into her spectacle case and then the girls pretend they can't see them. Matron sternly explains that Mam'zelle is very tired and overworked as she nursed her sick sister all through the holidays and didn't get any break before coming back to the little horrors. Janet takes Mam'zelle some flowers and fesses up, but Mam'zelle is so relieved to find she isn't going mad after all that she quite stuns Matron by going into hysterical laughter. OK, not going any more mad than usual...

And that's it. A great book, every bit as good as the first one although not as action-packed. The first three books are the best I think, although the next three are pretty good too. Still not Malory Towers, but a very close second.

The O'Sullivan Twins

Review by Shagufta Naaz (February 2, 2006)

After a relatively tame beginning with The Twins at St. Clare's, Blyton seems to be in the mood for fireworks and melodrama. And we get a good helping of both in The O'Sullivan Twins, thanks to Margery Fenworthy, the new girl in the form.

We first see her at the railway station ('a sulky, bad-tempered looking girl') and soon learn that she 'keeps herself to herself' and 'looked as if she'd like to bite one's head off'. As Janet says '...she has some kind of PAST'.

Blyton skilfully weaves a series of incidents that leads to us to discovering this past, starting with a midnight feast that goes wrong. A second-former, Erica, who hasn't been invited, takes revenge by getting the girls caught—and when Pat finds her out, she lashes back by playing spiteful tricks and letting them be blamed on Margery.

Margery is a perfect portrait of teen angst, and Blyton does a marvellous job of bringing out her anger and frustration: 'She plays games and does gym as if she was fighting someone all the time.' At the same time, the reader's sympathy for the character is ensured by making her the wrongfully accused victim of Erica's tricks, so by the time Margery comes to her moment of triumph we're all rooting for her.

As a contrast to Margery we have Lucy Oriell, the other new girl. 'Clever, kind, responsible and fun', Lucy is so perfect she could have been an unutterable bore, but Blyton smartly uses her character to sort out all the misunderstandings and be a friend to Margery. A family tragedy forces Lucy to sit for a scholarship, competing against girls two years her senior, but her 'quick brain' helps her and she's thankfully moved up to the second form by the end of the book.

The third new girl this term is Alison O'Sullivan, the featherhead who 'spends ages doing her hair and looking at herself in the mirror'. Through Alison's character we get a feel of how contemptuous Blyton was of anything that smacked of conceit or vanity, and poor Alison comes out the worst in every situation.

To sum up, The O'Sullivan Twins is an exciting read that challenges you to look beyond a person's attitude and give them a second chance. The only problem I have with it is the title; while Pat at least makes her presence felt, Isabel is all but invisible. Margery at St. Clare's would have made a lot more sense.

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