The Willoughbys ISBN: 9781906250966
Published by Boxer Books, 2009
The Willoughby family consists of four children, Tim who is 12 and extremely bossy, Barnaby A and Barnaby B, twins of 10, and Jane, who at the beginning of the novel is 6 1/2. They have terrible parents who not only have no interest in them, but actively dislike them. The feeling is mutual. When the parents decide to decamp on permanent holiday, leaving the children in the care of a nanny, the children are only too pleased, particularly because the nanny is kind and a good cook! In this wildly funny story, there are two dysfunctional families, one the Willoughbys, and the other that of Commander Melanoff whose obsessively over-tidy wife and young son have been lost in an avalanche in Switzerland some years before. Only they haven't been, and the Commander in his grief over the loss of his son (he doesn't care about the wife) has stopped reading the letters that have come to him from Switzerland as all they are saying is that the two have not yet been dug out of the snow, and he assumes they are dead. The children find a baby on their doorstep and not wanting to take responsibility for it, they dump it at the Commander's door, and this is the beginning of the Commander's rehabilitation. In a cacophony of circumstance, the two families become one, and the Commander marries the lovely Nanny, and the long lost son returns home! Meanwhile, the parents who have abandoned their children get frozen in trying to climb an Alp, and so the children are now real orphans - something they have always wanted to be. The Commander's awful wife in Switzerland has divorced him and married an equally obsessively tidy village postmaster. The Commander and Nanny adopt all six children, and they all live happily ever after. The front of the book says: 'A tale of villains, benefactors, abandoned infants, winsome orphans and diabolical plans,' and so it is! It claims to be 'old-fashioned, and it is certainly a take-off on old-fashioned books like 'Mary Poppins', 'Heidi', 'Anne of Green Gables', etc. many of which are discussed at the end of the novel and given very funny, witty summaries. Many of the books are mentioned in the novel too as the children assess their varying circumstances and compare themselves to kids in the books. There is also a clever glossary with definitions unlike anything seen before! Children in dysfunctional families can only enjoy reading about kids who are in a far worse situation than theirs, even though these situations are beyond anyone's ken. And bossy Tim becomes un-bossy due to kind Nanny, but he really is shown to be a complete controller in the beginning. I laughed aloud at this book, and if it makes sad children in unfortunate situations do that, it will be worth every reading minute. Absolutely super!