I have been burning through PaperbackSwap credits like they aren’t making them anymore, y’all. All of a sudden, everything on my wish list has been coming in at once. Lovely PaperbackSwap. If you are not familiar with them, please let me know and I will send you a referral. I have gotten such wonderful books from PaperbackSwap, including both of Joan Wyndham’s first two books (which are the two I wanted anyway). And earlier this month I got Cuckoo in the Nest, another Michelle Magorian book about British evacuees and their challenges on both ends of the evacuation process. (The other two of course were Good Night Mr. Tom and Back Home, and evidently there are others, but PaperbackSwap has not yet supplied me with them.)
The beginning: We begin in medias res, with everybody bickering. The Hollis home houses three siblings (little Elsie and Henry, plus nearly-grown Ralph, back from several years in Cornwall), an adopted cousin (Joan, yearning to be married and away), a long-suffering mother, her complaining sister, and a father who resents Ralph’s apparent abandonment of his own working-class values and ideas. The house is tired from the war and tired from crowding, and everybody is angry at everybody else. In particular, Ralph and his father are furious with each other. Ralph only wants to be an actor, and his father wants him to settle down to regular life and work in the paper mill.
When Ralph gets fired from the paper mill (for having a smart mouth), he has to seek work elsewhere. Desperate to get his foot in the door at the local theatre, he volunteers to help with sets on Saturday evenings. Meanwhile he gets a job as a gardener and odd-jobs-doer for a wealthyish Mrs. Egerton-Smythe, whose overbearing son controls her finances and won’t let her do anything she wants to do.
The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight blank spaces to see them): I didn’t really need to read this, I suppose. You always knew what was going to happen. Mrs. Egerton-Smythe’s dreadful son gets his comeuppance, and Ralph and his father come to an uneasy understanding of each other. It is nice to be able to count on Michelle Magorian for a good ending, even if the middle is extremely sad. (You may recall certain events that befell certain characters in Good Night Mr. Tom that I have still not full forgiven Michelle Magorian for.)
The whole: Not quite as strong as Back Home, still my favorite of Michelle Magorian’s books. But it was exactly what I was expecting and exactly what I was in the mood for. I love stories about parents and children misunderstanding and disappointing each other and ultimately realizing how much they love and respect each other. (Cf. Power of Three, among many many others.)
And okay, yes, there were some convenient coincidences that helped Ralph’s theatrical career along. That cannot be denied. On the other hand, I don’t care! I like for people to achieve their dreams so there cruel world. Not everybody who works in the theater can have a sterling work ethic, and I felt fine about having one ditsy rich theater girl batting her eyes at everyone and failing to do her duties so that Ralph could swoop in and save the day.
I will leave you with this Monty Python skit. I think of it every time I read one of these working-class-parents-with-posh-kids books. Graham Chapman is such a delight. Angry is my favorite look for Graham Chapman. (Manic for John Cleese, officious for Michael Palin, straight man for Terry Jones, and uncomfortably chatty for Eric Idle, in case you are wondering.)
Have you read anything by Michelle Magorian? Her most famous Good Night Mr. Tom, or one of her more obscure books?