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.