13 December 2010

Book Review: Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton


I am trying to think of a clever way to begin this review because I know it is one of Simon's favorite books. But alas, no such creativity is at hand. Even worse is that I don't have the energy to string together a bunch of observations into coherent paragraphs. So a bullet point review it will be:
  • I loved this book.
  • I have been trying to write a plot bullet for about 20 minutes now and can't seem to get anything I like.  Nothing I come up with makes the book sound as charming as it is. It is the story of two families whose lives become more and more entangled as the offspring of each family become friends, lovers, spouses, and enemies.
  • One matriarch Mrs. Willoughby, rules with an iron glove. Extremely efficient, she instills fear and makes things happen. The other matriarch, Mrs. Fowler, is kinder and gentler She just kind of lets things happen, yet she too manages to make things happen.
  • The character I absolutely loved: Mrs. Fowler. Such a gentle soul but with a fire that she has kept tamed over the course of her married life. Even into her widowhood she still is of two minds, the independent thinking Millicent she was before she got married and Milly, the more passive woman she had to be once she got married. She is the grandmotherly figure you want to run to when something is wrong.
  • The character who I loathed: Belle. One could maybe choose Helen or Mrs. Willoughby for this distinction, but they are both pussycats compared to the atrociously petty, self-centered Belle. God I hated her. A bit of an archetype, she is the one you would hiss at when she came on screen if this book were a film. (I wish.)
  • To varying degrees we get to see the lives of each of the characters develop, fall apart, and eventually get mended. Through the joys and pains, everything comes full circle. Hence the name of the book.
  • I didn't realize that  a Merry-Go-Round could be called a roundabout in the UK. (Oddly enough it wasn't this book that first made me aware of it. It was actually the one I read just previous to this one, Little Boy Lost. In that book Hilary takes Jean to a circus where he rides a roundabout.)
  • The name Richmal Crompton alone should enticee one to pick up this book. In my head I always think of a sort of healthy breakfast cereal when I hear her given name.
  • One of the funnier characters in the book is Arnold Palmer, a handsome and vain novelist, who I think must be there so Crompton can poke a bit of fun at herself. He wrote forty-some novels, so did she. He talks about his proclivity to introduce too many characters in the opening chapter, so does she. I wonder if Crompton "casually" laid good press clippings around her study when she was expecting guests?
  • I really didn't want this book to end. As far as Persephone goes, it ranks right up there with the best of the Whipples.
  • Wait, are you still here? Go read this book.

17 comments:

  1. I'm afraid your comment about the author's breakfast cereal name might make it hard for me to start this book with a straight face.

    BTW, your post introduced me to The Uncommon Reader. (Yeah--I've been reading food blogs and knitting blogs for the last few years and therefore somehow missed it before.) I just read it and absolutely loved it. Thanks! (I thank you on my blog, too.)

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  2. Two Persephone posts in a row makes me happy. Two Persephone Books I have read, no less.

    Family Roundabout is charming & delightful & one to reread often. Indeed we call merry-go-rounds roundabouts here; either way they make me feel ill.

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  3. I have this book and haven't gotten around to it yet. (Does that sound like a familiar line from me?) Anyway, I'm glad to hear you liked it so much, and I'm very happy to know that a roundabout is a merry-go-round. For some reason, I was thinking it meant traffic circle, which seemed like an odd thing to name a book after.

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  4. Now I'm wishing that this had been on my Christmas wishlist! Oh well, something to treat myself to in the new year (or put on the birthday list for February).

    From the way you describe her, I'm sure I'm going to love Mrs Fowler (though I think I've rather more experience with the Mrs Willoughbys of the world).

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  5. I can't understand the apologetic tone because you get the entire gist of what you were going to say across - in a review very nicely - in point form. Nothing wrong with that surely.

    Now to go see whether its available!

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  6. It is not available. Sulk sulk. there are two children's books by this author! I am annoyed! I like family stories and I like your friends, lovers, spouses and enemies bit!

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  7. I had no idea what a roundabout was, so I thank you for sharing that little tidbit. This one sounds like a winner.

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  8. I read this book a couple years back and totally loved it. I wish Richmal Crompton novels weren't so hard to come by. I wish Persphone would publish several more.

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  9. Yes, I'm still here... but leaving now to put this on my wish list!!

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  10. Lifetime: I guess it sounds like "rich meal" to me. But I may be pronouncing it wrong. I am so glad you like The Uncommon Reader. I think if I every meet someone who doesn't I will keep well clear of them.

    Claire (PbR): This just seems to be a Persephone time of year. I am going to start Someone at Distance today.

    Teresa: It is a traffic circle as well, so the title could still work even with that in mind.

    Claire (TCR): I think by nature I am more of a Mrs. Willoughby, but with some therapy I am becoming more like Mrs. Fowler. There is one scene where Mrs. F channels Mrs. W to positive effect.

    Mystica: I am glad I was able to convey my enthusiasm.

    Susan: You will like it.

    SFP: Supposedly this is the best of her adult novels, but I think our generation of readers should get to decide for ourselves.

    JoAnn: You won't regret it.

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  11. Oh I just LOVED this book! And your review is wonderful, and hilarious! I agree - definitely up there with the Whipples! It reminded me most of Greenbanks.

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  12. So, so pleased that you enjoyed this book so much, Thomas! As you know, I love it - and it set me off buying as many RC novels as I could find. A few quite easily - and lots more which have proved nigh on impossible to find. They are a little variable in quality, and sometimes repeat characters rather, but at her best RC is so very good.

    Oh, and the name Richmal was made up by her family, uniting her grandparents' names Richard and Mary (apparently Mal used to be an abbreviation of Mary) - so there you go!

    Do try and find other RC novels if you can...

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  13. Whilst reading this I couldn't decide who I hated more...Belle or Louise from Someone at a Distance.

    Louise wears the crown and Belle is first runner-up.

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  14. Love your decision to result to bulleted-list form here. Also, I love reading your reviews because you always review books that have either lurked on the edge of my consciousness or never entered my sphere before, which keeps it eye-opening and interesting.

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  15. I really loved this book as well. I'd never read any of Crompton's William books, but had heard how funny they were, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I certainly had not expected something so gentle and delightful.

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  16. I loved this one too! I want to track down all her other adult books but its not easy.

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  17. Rachel: Hard not to love this book.

    Simon: You know on shelves and in cupboards across the world there are RC books just waiting to be uncovered. If only we knew where.

    Darlene: So far I hate Belle more. I think others (Avery) is too complicit in Louise's bad behavior to pin it entirely on her. Although who knows what I will think once I finish the book.

    Kerry: Thanks. Most of my work emails use bulleted lists because I don't trust that people read full paragraphs these days.

    Make do: I would want to read the William books in order. Given how many there are that might be hard to accomplish.

    Mrs B: Which is a shame. I think Persephone needs to bring a few more out.

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