MMU Marathon 4: Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

At the beginning of September I set myself the challenge to read the MMU series by Robin Stevens from start to latest book as I had only to that point read the first. 

Throughout I am keeping a casebook of my own taking notes to compile my reflections.

Contains very minor spoilers but nothing that reveals the solution.

I loved this Mean Girls meets the MMU universe, Elizabeth is so a Regina George!!!

I twigged early that Elizabeth had her own Burn Book as it’s a cult movie for my generation but I was kept guessing as to who the culprit was because as Robin so cleverly misdirects us to hyperfocus on one thing whilst pulling smoke and mirrors around the truth.

Cover by Nina Tara

The girls are back at Deepdean and it’s all growing terribly wrong. First of all something is UP with Daisy, and Hazel is distant wishing and hoping upon mysterious letters.

But there’s something much more dangerous in Elizabeth and the Prefects who rule the school with an iron fist encouraging nastiness and punching down as a way of life…. until something cracks…quite literally over the head of Elizabeth during the Deepdean Bonfire Night Fireworks.

Stevens has been so very clever in her construction and misdirect in this book and flipping all expectations so as not to create a ‘formula’ series.

I LOVE the way that Robin has kept the narrative familiar by placing us back at Deepdean but kept it fresh and turns the expectations on their head. For example usually the girls would begin collecting gossip about the victim, suspects and the events surrounding the murder from conversations or at school using the shrimps.

However, the intimate nature of a girls boarding school means we already know Elizabeth is a cow and indeed instead of uncovering the secrets, they are being broadcast, but not the ‘right’ secrets creates this heady atmosphere and chicanery if misdirection- well done Robin!! which is so clever to prevent the series becoming formulaic.

‘Grown ups never see the truth of what goes on among us… they have forgotten quite how difficult it is to be young.’

It may seem stupid but this was a tougher read emotionally. Whilst I have not had to deal with murder I am no stranger to the unkindness of girls and machinations of control that girls like Elizabeth wield even over friends to their nastiness for her. It was an uncomfortable read seeing how similar control techniques have been used on people I considered my friends and indeed me in order to moderate my ambitions and quell attempts to break free from subordinate misery.

I think it was a powerful decision to root a story around this particular style of bullying as so many experience the tyranny of Queen Bees in and out of school life and yet feel we are the only ones or powerless to create change.

We sat leaning our heads together and not speaking for a while. I felt my breathing steady and my heart calm in my chest. Beanie was enormously comforting.

I liked seeing more of Kitty, Beanie and Lavinia. Especially precious Beanie for her kindness and her hidden grit, even though she cries, I seriously believe both Hazel and Daisy massively underestimate her. She is incredibly observant especially in non-verbal emotional cues and has an ability to cross emotional walls such as comforting Hazel in the linen cupboard. She is one of my favourite characters as I think there’s far far far more to Beanie than is revealed.

Oh Hazel. Oh dear. I can see where this is going and I’m angry for her if I’m right and it will make me want to go back in literary time and kick Alexander Dumbass- I have a bit in common with Daisy over this one.

The beautiful symbiosis between Hazel and Daisy in First Class Murder has been destroyed in a few weeks and it’s interesting, frustrating and heartbreaking how much Alexander has to play in this.

And yet… such a good MOVE by Robin Stevens to bring this in because this sort of thing really happens!

‘Our friendship had been upset. It had changed like Deepdean and I did not know how to put it back together’

The possessiveness from Daisy towards Hazel was so difficult to watch. We see Hazel hurt and her inferiority complex resurface by Daisy’s cold behaviour and Daisy almost frantic with fear because Hazel is equally possessive & secretive about her own penpal relationship with Alexander to the point where she herself feels she is betraying Daisy and the Detective Society.

Daisy has a terrible time in this book struggling with her vulnerability & childish innocence two things she desperately doesn’t want anyone to see whilst she is falling apart at the thought of being replaced by a boy. Something is deeper here about her references to gender, both with Alexander and to her own brother Bertie, we see the glimmers of Daisy struggling with a secret inferiority complex of her own.

However, we cannot condone her behaviours, as realistic as they may be, because possessiveness and control is not what true friends do. I’m delighted as a parent by how Robin Stevens deals with the possessiveness of intense adolescent friendships and the fear of then changing or indeed losing them. Stevens takes care to show that relationships do change and evolve but it can be healthier with openness and acceptance on both sides.

The really interesting factor is around the way Daisy cannot fathom how Hazel can care for both her and Alexander, especially considering the reality of reciprocity of those feelings. A lot of her outbursts comes down to expectations and judgements by gender as she is fine about Hazel being close and developing deeper friendships with their dormies yet outraged about a boy- I have my suspicions about the struggle that Daisy is dealing with but I don’t want to presume.

‘ Not all of our Big Girls go to University. most are only presented at court and go on to marry Lords with no chins’

I also loved the flickers of focus on gender expectations and the quandaries that young girls face in the temptations and desires to either adhere or break them and what the consequences of either decision would be.

There is such powerful social history here about how the lives of women were limited even if well born. You had to either be well bred or beautiful to marry ‘well’ or you risk having to ‘marry down’ or being rejected as odd and ‘intense ‘ if you dared to dream of being more than a debutante bride.

Please note if you zoom in, I use the word ‘Crazy’ in regards to Lettice- not because I endorse that word but because that is the language with which Elizabeth may have taunted her.

As much as Fallingford still casts a shadow over Daisy, I feel gender politics will be a more dominant focus in subsequent books as the girls grow older and expectations become more tense.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens is published by Puffin Books in the UK.

6 thoughts on “MMU Marathon 4: Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

    1. They have seriously slowed my reading speed and eaten up time but are so worth it- my cream buns section however is a MESS because I wrote it straight in without making part notes at a time then moving on to next part.

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