Friday, May 7, 2010

Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

'It's like a sort of roundabout, isn't it?  You get one lot more or less settled and then, before you know where you are, it's all starting again with the next.'

So says matriarch, Mrs Fowler to her one-time rival, Mrs Willoughby.  She makes this comment in the last few pages and it does make parenting sound rather exhausting.  These two women counsel their extended family throughout good times and bad, the former being more relaxed and the latter...well, she employs the steamroller approach.

First off, there's a fair number of characters to get to know with both families having several children.  Bring in the spouses and then their resulting offspring, things get a bit busy at times and a genealogical chart would have come in handy!  Helen, the perfectionist daughter of Mrs Fowler, marries Max from the Willoughby side...they have scads of money.  Helen's sister, Anice, marries Martin who isn't at all GQ with his crooked teeth and simpering bookish ways but he is constant in his affection.  Anice can't stand that they don't have the disposable income of Helen and Max but she tries her best to look like they do.  Peter Fowler is married to Belle who is an absolute drama queen and that's putting it mildly, actually she's quite the something that rhymes with 'witch'.  What is poor Peter to do but fall in love with the sweet nursemaid for their daughter, Gillian.  Oh, this makes Belle mad...very mad! 

Now Judy Fowler is beautiful and Oliver Willoughby really, really likes her but Mrs Willoughby thinks one Fowler in the family is enough and does some steamrolling.  She learns later that her actions have consequences.  Poor Cynthia has her heart broken by her sister, Judy, but not because of, no, no.  Will she remain a spinster for the rest of her life rather than risk her heart?

If you get the feeling that this reads like a script for a television drama you get top marks.  In reading the preface AFTER the book, a quirky thing I like to do, Juliet Ackroyd writes...

'Had she been born later, with her good ear for natural speech and her idiosyncratic visual sense Richmal Crompton could surely have written excellent TV serials.'

I really enjoyed this book, although I do wish that a bit more heart and soul of some of the characters was revealed.  And speaking of serial drama, I couldn't get Peggy Archer's voice out of my head whenever Mrs Fowler spoke!  If you aren't familiar with The Archers...never mind.

Hats off to Verity and Claire on a wonderful second Persephone Reading Week...dare I say annual?


  1. I loved this, Darlene - I must pull it down and read it again - but you might find more 'heart and soul' in one of her other books, Frost at Morning, which is very good on what goes inside children's heads. It's out of print, but I've come across second hand copies quite often. Still preferred Family Roundabout, though ... I do think Persephone chose the right one to republish.

  2. You may dare to say annual ... ;)

    I wonder whether Persephone will publish Frost at Morning? I've heard good things.

    I read Family Roundabout pre-blogging and I didn't retain much about it (thanks for the refresher!) I do recall enjoying it and it will make a good reread at some point.

  3. I didn't think that Frost at Morning was quite up to Persephone standards. Still enjoyable, though.

  4. I loved this Persephone. It's one of those that just stays with you and I hope to reread it one day.

  5. Lovely review - I did enjoy this when I read it and would love to re-read. You are so right about the TV serial - this would be a terffic Forsyte Saga style drama, wouldn't it?!

  6. It does all sound pretty dramatic. Once the characters got sorted out I really enjoyed the story and I think it is actually one of my favorite Persephones. I liked Frost at Morning as well, but Family Roundabout a bit better. Am still working on Someone at a Distance and very much 'enjoying' it (well as much as you can enjoy a character like Louise).

  7. This sounds quite fun, a sort of hot-water bottle book to curl up with. Thanks for the review and recommendation!