Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

I’ve always been a fan of Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ books for children. Liberally peppered with hilarious incidents and cringeworthy escapades, it is hard to think that Crompton could be capable of writing a sentence that was not funny. I was therefore, intrigued to discover Crompton was a prolific writer of adult, ‘serious’ novels. ‘Family Roundabout’ published by Persephone books, is my first experience with Crompton, writing a non-William book and I must say that I rather enjoyed this alternative voice of Crompton too!

Excerpt: This Persephone book looks at the complex relationship between two neighbouring families, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys,  whose outlooks on life, are on one hand in opposition to one another, but on the other hand, find their paths unavoidably intertwined. Both the matriarch’s of the families, keep a close eye on the fates of their beloved families, but employ different styles in guiding them. Mrs Willoughby, has control of the family fortune, and dictates the actions of her family members by way of controlling the money she endows them. Benevolent Mrs Fowler, watches silently, as her children fall in and out of their individual problems. Most of her children appeal for her help when they require it. But despite, however, much the mothers’ try to resolve their children’s problems, new troubles, recur in cyclical events, almost like a roundabout.

  • Title: Family Roundabout
  • Author: Richmal Crompton
  • Published: 1948 by Hutchinson , later published by Persephone Books in 2001.
  • Location of the story: rural England, in the years preceding World War II.
  • Main Characters: the two families: the Fowlers and the Willoughbys.

Family Roundabout, essentially deals with the domestic events occurring in the neighbouring households of the Fowlers and the Willoughbys. At the start of the book, both the patriarchs of the families have died, leaving their wives at the helm of family affairs.

Mrs. Fowler or Millicent has for so many years moulded her personality to suit the requirements of her husband and family, she has forgotten that she has an individual voice of her own. Quite interestingly, in the first few pages of the book we are introduced to the concept of Millicent having a split personality of sorts- that of the muddle-headed, self-effacing, diminutive ‘Milly’ and also that of ‘Millicent’ – a more discerning, quick-witted, astute individual with a sharp intellect.

Stupidity is not an easy quality to assume, and there had been times when her real self had broken through the barricade

We see in the course of the novel, Mrs Fowler, taking judicious steps to guide the progress of her family but always hiding proof of any deliberate intentions under the ruse of the bemused ‘Millie’.

The Fowlers are a large family who live in Langley Place, a country house located in the small village of Hurstmede, three miles away from the country town of Bellington. When Henry Fowler dies, he leaves behind Millicent, and their five children: Matthew (28) (living abroad in Kenya), Peter an architect (26)(married to Belle), Anice (24), Helen (22) and the youngest Judy, a schoolgirl of 16.

Willoughby, the owner of a large paper-mill, leaves his money in its entirety to his wife, Mrs Willoughby who chooses to distribute this money to her children as she sees fit. As a result she has complete control over the movements of her children. Dasg and dash, wedded to dash and dash respectively, respond to Mrs illooghby’s beck and call much to the consternation of their husbands. But household expenses, clothes and school fees are paid for so there is little or no protest. Max, as the eldest son, takes over as the de facto head of the mills. The youngest son, Oliver, has literary aspirations to publish a novel but his ideas are met with strong disproval from his mother and he forced to at least appear to work in the family business.

While Henry  Fowler and Willoughby were alive the two families paths seldom met. They were separated from one another by a vague idea of class difference and contempt for each other’s standing in society.

The Fowlers were of the county, while the Willoughbys were of the town.”

After the death of the two patriarchs Max and Helen decide to marry, thus unavoidably intertwining the paths of the two families.  Cool and calculative Helen  meets with her mother-in-laws approval and is usually consulted regarding all family affairs. The two youngest children of the respective families, Judy Fowler and Cynthia Willougby are close friends and go to school together. They share a shared juvenile obsession for a famous contemporary author.

Slowly, we are introduced into the individual lives of the Willoughbys and Fowlers. We learn that Peter Fowler has an unhappy home that he shares with his neurotic, manipulative wife Belle and their young daughter Gillian. Peter has a close bond with his brother Matthew, who lives in Kenya , but who frequently writes to their mother about his intentions of returning to his family home.

Anise, close in age to Helen, has grown up in her beautiful younger sisters shadow, marries a poor bookshop employee four of  love and lives an unhappy life constantly trying to compete with her wealthy sister Helen. Judy, grows up to be a beautiful young woman, and she and Oliver , the youngest Willoughby fall in love with one another. Mrs Willoughby, disapproves of the alliance, and tries to discourage Oliver from marrying her. Judy, yearning for the city life, cajoles Oliver into forsaking his position in the family business and tries to convince him to live an independent life in the city as a writer, However, timid Oliver finds himself constantly mustering up the courage to make this tremendous leap into financial insecurity.

Mrs Fowler, silently witnesses the trial and tribulations of her family. She waits in the sidelines, anticipating each wrong turn that her children and grandchildren might make and silently tries to steer them in the right direction. She suffers silently and is often unable to make matters right.

Mrs Willoughby, on the other hand, rules her family with an iron hand. Though she is benevolent and kind to her extended family, several of them poor and aged, she is often dictatorial and uncompromising with her immediate family.

Both women have the well being of their families foremost in their minds, whatever, their methods of dealing with their family problems might be. At the end of the story the two women have a remarkable conversation about family troubles, recurring at cyclical intervals,almost like a constantly moving roundabout.

Family Roundabout by Crompton is a well written, critical observation of domestic drama  and complex familial relationships. Crompton  simultaneously relates the interplay of several plot threads. Each of the characters and their relationships are described with remarkable clarity. Foibles in human character are acutely observed. None of the characters are perfect. Each one of them has their own individual shortcomings and they are remarkably  human. They are prone to make mistakes, and just as their mother’s rush to their sides to offer them assistance, so too do they awaken the sympathy of the reader.

 

The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

 

  • Title: The Story of Babar
  • Author and Illustrator: Jean de Brunhoff
  • Published: 1933
  • Main Characters: Babar (a little elephant),

Short Synopsis of the Story: A little elephant called Babar grew up under the care of his mother in a big forest. One day, some cruel hunters killed Babar’s mother before his very eyes. In a wild panic, Babar fled and ran and ran until he came upon a large town. Once in the town, he met an Old Lady who was kind enough to be Babar’s benefactress. Babar went to a large clothing store and bought himself fine clothes. With the help of a learned professor, Babar received a good education and together, he and the Old Lady spent a happy few years in polite, civilized, social circles in the big city. Despite the comfort and security in his town life, Babar missed his life in the forest. One day, Babar came upon two of his cousins, Celeste and Arthur, who had mischievously escaped from the forest. He spent a few happy days with his cousins, showing them about town and his way of life. When Celeste and Arthur’s mothers come from the forest and find their children it is time to go back. Babar decided that he would go back to the forest with his cousins. Despite feeling sad at leaving the Old Lady, Babar was ready to embrace his old life. When Babar, Celeste and Hector, arrived back in the forest they found that the King of the Elephants had suddenly died from eating a poisonous mushroom. All the elephants proposed that Babar should be their King. Babar accepted their proposal on the grounds that they accept Celeste as their queen. There was a grand marriage ceremony with much celebration and enjoyment and all the animals of the forest attended it. King Babar and Queen Celeste leave on their honeymoon on a big hot-air balloon, eager for new adventures.

Notes: This is a wonderful story with a subtle moral. Babar returns to his old life in the forest, thus relinquishing his life of comfort in the big town. His experiences in the city, placate him in the elephant society and he is deemed worthy of being their King. Babar and his Queen, seek further adventures. Adventure and experience, bring worldliness and hence wisdom.

Apart from having a lovely storyline that will capture the imagination of little children, the illustrations by de Brunhoff are exceptional. Particularly those of Babar dressed in his fine clothes, partaking of amusements that are popular in genteel society. This is deemed to be one of the first graphic novels of it’s kind and de Brunhoff is often referred to as being the father of the contemporary picture book.

I did find the references to Babar’s mother being killed a little shocking though and my three year old daughter was clearly affected by the incident and kept asking about it. Perhaps, death is a fact that needs to be dealt with, however, young we may be. It is a point that I am still pondering.

Top 10 books of 2015

0001-104945757

In terms of the number of books read, 2015 was a disappointing year for me. We are in the first week of December and I am yet to reach my yearly goal of reading 50 books. Things were progressing fairly well, I was reading a book a week and then summer came…

Here are my excuses: we went on a long summer vacation to meet family in India after five long years. There, I also met my brother and his girlfriend whom I saw for the very first time. They were visiting from Europe.

I caught up with school friends, met aged relatives, did a little bit of sightseeing in Kolkata, where I had lived for 18 years, dealt with my daughter’s severe bout of diarrhea (too much information, I know) and dutifully visited our local dentist several times. My summer was hence, bookless.

In 2015, I started this blog and it took me a few months to find my feet (I still am!). I was also involved in managing and writing content for a few online projects. It was a busy but interesting year.

I have a few other excuses but I’ll shush now. At the end of the day, I try to remind myself why I read. And I feel personally, it shouldn’t be about me chasing after a random number. Questions I should be focusing on are: did I learn something from the books I read? Did they inspire me? Did they cheer me up when I was having a bad day, week or month? Did they make me passionate about reading more? The answers to these questions are a resounding yes.

So at the end of this long monologue, I should mention that despite the paucity of books read, I was lucky enough to pick up several great books in 2015. Coincidentally, all the books described in this blogpost are written by authors who I have read for the very first time, excluding HE Bates. Here in no particular order are my Top 10 Books of 2015. All of them are exceptional reads.

1) They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

Three sisters marry three very different men. Lucy, the eldest is happily married to William. Charlotte, is besotted with Geoffrey who is a cruel, dominating husband and Vera, the beautiful youngest sister marries caring, wealthy Brian, whom she marries for  security. The story deals with the fact that choosing a life partner can have far-reaching consequences, and that this decision can dictate to a large extent a person’s individual happiness and the happiness of their families.Whipple delivers a masterful plot and powerful cast of characters. She creates extraordinary drama and turbulence within the boundaries of everyday domestic occurrences. For a full review see here.

FullSizeRender-2

2) 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This is an account of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York and Frank Doel, an employee of a used antiquarian bookstore in London. The correspondence is spread over the years 1949 to 1969, documenting the lively dialogue between two people, with nothing in common but a knowledge and love of good books. Set in the years after World War II, the reader is treated to an insight of the reality of what it was like to live in the aftermath of the war. The book is funny and poignant and shows how people separated by great distance and circumstances can nonetheless, touch each others lives and create the most beautiful of relationships.For a full review click here.

 

 

 

3) Illyrian spring by Ann Bridge

This book is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930’s Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmachael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia’s remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other’s company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart.

illyrian-spring

4) The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp

This is an unusual, quirky, humorous fairytale romance story. An unlikely hero (portly, middle-aged Henry Gibson) and an unlikely heroine (angular, past her prime Dolores Diver) meet at a Chelsea Arts Ball dressed as a brown paper parcel and Spanish dancer respectively. Thus springs an unusual decade long love affair that is threatened by economic situations. Enter an unemotional orphaned niece with a large appetite for food and drawing random objects, a few unusual characters and situations, lots of candor, romance and intelligence and you have the makings of a fine novel. ‘The Eye of Love’ by Margery Sharp is a fantastic read. For a full review click here

IMG_1980

5) The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford is her fifth novel published in 1945. It is the first novel in a trilogy of which Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred form a part. The Pursuit of Love was the first novel that brought Mitford popularity and is semi-autobiographical. The time frame of the story is set in between the two world wars. The threat of impending war and its repercussions play a major role in the unfolding of the story. However, at the heart of the tale is the story of a young woman’s lifelong quest to find love.

IMG_0049

 

6) Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

This is a feel good Cinderella-esque love story set in 1930s rural Essex. What sets it apart from any other frothy romance novels is Gibbon’s exceptionally witty writing style, her simultaneous interweaving of several plots and her sometimes very profound observations about life.

 

IMG_0374

7) Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Four English women seek respite from their personal troubles during a month-long holiday in a rented medieval castle in Italy.  The change of scenery strikes an indelible change in each of these women. They find themselves embracing circumstances and causes they had long given up on. The book positively resonates with the beauty and warmth of the location. Elizabeth von Arnim supposedly visited an Italianate castle perched high up on a cliff, in the location of beautiful Portofino and the place inspired her to write Enchanted April.

 

8) A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

This is Peter Mayle’s year long diary-style narrative of moving to and spending a year in a small village in Provence. Each month chronicles not only the events taking place in the author’s personal life, but also the events typically occurring in a small Provencal village. The weather, seasonal produce and farming, summer markets and festivities are all deliciously captured through discerning descriptions. The writing style is simple yet descriptive. This is a beautiful travelogue. I tried to read a chapter a month this year, corresponding to the month described in the book. For a look at my art journal entry based on the cover illustration look here.

 

9) Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

This is the most unusual book I have read this year yet so very wonderful. This is a Persephone Classic. It describes at length the wedding day of a young girl who is reluctant to get married. The bride takes to glugging a bottle of Jamaica Rum in her bedroom to quell her fears whilst downstairs a strange collective of characters have assembled to participate in the wedding celebrations. There are eccentric relatives, friends, a former beau who wishes to propose and yet is not certain of himself and a bevy of peculiar servants who help in the wedding preparations. The book is interspersed with memorable dialogues. I highly recommend this book!

10)The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates

This book is just ‘perfick’ to read in the summer if you should choose to use Pop Larkin’s (the protagonist of the book’s) favorite adjective. A young tax collector comes to Pop Larkin’s Essex farm for an audit only to find himself totally carried away by the love, laughter and excesses of the Larkin family. He falls in love with Mariette, the eldest Larkin daughter, Ma Larkin’s cooking and also Pop Larkin’s philosophy of living life to the lees. The descriptions of nature, summer and especially food make this an exceptional book.

What were your favorite books of 2015? Do you have a yearly goal of reading a certain number of books?

12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016

0001-102946156

Now that I’m approaching my fourth decade of life, I feel more confident about the choices that I make in life. For example, I know when I enter a Starbucks, to be confronted by a bewildering array of choices, that I am NOT a green tea latte type of person. Most definitely not. For me, it is the subtle aroma of the simple cappuccino, made with a hint of sugar, that gives me pleasure.

Similarly, I have accepted the fact that I will never be the ‘skinny jeans wearing type of gal’ with the permanently furrowed brow. Give me the comfortable boyfriend jeans and I will sink comfortably into my favourite couch, to reach for that reassuring book.

When it comes to book choices too, I have finally reached that beautiful place, when I am able to appreciate in advance, exactly what kind of book I will enjoy reading, even when I have never read a single line written by that author.

Most of them are modern classics, written in and around the twentieth century and deal with stories related to the home and society.

Here in no particular order, are the twelve authors whom I have never read, but I expect (and hope!) will give me many hours of unadulterated reading pleasure in 2016.

1) E.M. Delafield-  The Diary of A Provincial Lady

2) Elizabeth Jenkins-  The Tortoise and the Hare

3) E.F. Benson- Mapp and Lucia

4) D.E. Stevenson- Mrs Tim of the Regiment or Miss Buncle’s Book

5) Monica Dickens-Mariana

 

 

6) Penelope Lively- Consequences

7) Muriel Spark-The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

8) Beryl Bainbridge- The Bottle Factory Outing

9) Winifred Holtby- South Riding

10) Barbara Comyns- Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

11) Elizabeth Taylor- Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

12) Josephine They- The Franchise Affair

Please let me know if you enjoy reading these particular authors and which books you have enjoyed reading by them.

Which books do you look forward to reading in 2016?

Here’s to a great year of reading ahead!