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 Post subject: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 29 May 2018, 10:21 
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Seven Scamps, published in 1924 is the fourth book in the La Rochelle series. Like the previous book, it starts out with a set of new characters and connects with previous characters later in the book. The story is centred around the Willoughby family; widower Sir Piers and his seven children, with a step-mother and step-sister introduced part way through the book. We have surprise relatives, a whole lot of pranks, an emergency operation, a storm at sea, a tumble down a cliff and a heroic rescue/engagement.

The book starts out with a general introduction to the "Scamps". Lady Willougby died several years previously. Since then, Sir Piers, grief stricken, has travelled the world, leaving his seven children to the care of the housekeeper, which means that they've been running wild, annoying the neighbours, and refusing any authority. The two eldest keep the younger ones from outright vandalism, but unpleasant pranks and wild behaviour are normal.

Maidie, the eldest at seventeen, is a pretty, strong-willed girl, fond of music and used to ruling the household. Sixteen year old Rex is on a break from public school, after a bout of rheumatic fever. He is supposed to be reading classics with the curate, Mr Eltringham, but skips out when possible. Fourteen year old Marjolaine is a matter-of-fact young girl, while David and Peter, thirteen and eleven, are mischevious boys. Dina, the second youngest, is a sensitive girl who is the only one who ever worries about their behaviour. She is delicate with a bad back, the result of a fall as a child. Tim, the youngest, is a willful five year old. All the children like music and reading, but pay little attention to other lessons. The final addition to the family is Nigel, their father's much younger brother, currently a 'festive youth of twenty-two', at Oxford.

When we meet them, the children are planning some new mischeif; a plot to sleep outside in the orchard. Maidie plans to take the two youngest into town to get their hair cut; over-ruling the objections of the housekeeper, who is worried about the heat. They continue with their arrangements, sneaking linens out of the house. They sneak out of the house after bedtime. Dina is woken up by an owl and is frightened. Later, the agitated adults from the house burst in, after an extensive search for them.

We then switch to Sir Piers in Cairo, who has recieved a batch of letters. (Maidie, Rex, Dina, Mr Eltringham, the family doctor, and the housekeeper). The doctor and the curate plainly describe the children's wildness, Maidie's worrying combination of immaturity and sophistication and Rex and Dina's health problems (made worse by sleeping out). The housekeeper admits she can't do anything with the children. Mr Eltringham has intervened and sent the two boys to day school in town, to keep them out of trouble, and is keeping a close eye on the rest. Rex and Maidie are wildly indignant at having their authority questioned, and are sulky and defiant.

Back in England, Maidie is being rude to Mr Eltringham, while Rex has written him a note ordering him to keep out of their affairs and Marjolaine is threatening to get her hair bobbed. Sir Piers, however, is to return in a fortnight. Maidie goes to visit a family friend, Miss Matthias, and complains vigorously about Mr Eltringham's interference.

Two weeks later, the kids are preparing decorations for their father's return. Tim uses some inappropriate language, and admits to eating berries in the woods; Sir Piers arrives during the chaos of the treatment for poison (although the berries turn out to be harmless). Sir Piers drops a bombshell in the form of a new wife, the Norwegian Sigrid, and her ten year old daughter, Britta. It does not go well. Maidie wraps herself in cold dignity, Marjoliane follows her, Rex is sulky, and Dina is ill. Sigrid tries to make friends, but Maidie snubs her, and Britta leaps in to defend her mother, fanning the flames.

Things get worse from there. Sigrid is a sweet, shy woman, but Britta, indignant at how her mother has been treated, rubs the marriage in the others faces. The others, in retaliation, shut her out of their society, to the extent of refusing to do anything where they would be expected to include her. Britta, by accident, breaks a figurine of Maidie's, that had belonged to her mother. Sigrid reprimands Britta, who is miserably lonely in her new home. The others retaliate by clearing out their play room, leaving it empty and solely for Britta's use.

Matters are quieter after that, but no friendlier. We get a bit of Sigrid's family history; she was a long time friend of Sir Piers, widowed young with a child, who spent her time travelling. When Sir Piers got his batch of letters, he decided that he needed a stepmother for his children, and proposed. When this didn't result in domestic bliss, he was uncertain what to do next, but determined to bring his willful children to heel as quickly as possible. He comes across Tim having a tantum, and Maidie dealing with him. Sir Piers intervenes, gives him a spanking for disobeying direct orders, and then dresses down Maidie when he thinks she is intervening in the puishment. He is shocked by her air of cold dignity. All-in-all, pretty much everyone is miserable.

Things are shaken up with a telegaph from London. Dina has been seeing a specialist there, and needs an immediate and dangerous operation. Sir Piers, Rex and Maidie head off, and Sigrid's sympathy helps thaw things slightly. The operation takes place, successfully, and Dina is comforted by Maidie, who resembles their mother strongly.

Back home, the younger children are ripe for mischief. Sigrid makes the unfortunate decision to take Tim to church, where he loudly comments on the service, sings his own lyrics to the hymns, and needs to be carried out screaming, after which he makes faces at the angels. Later that day, Peter and David argue with Britta, Britta tattles, and Sigrid goes to bed with a headache. They then decide to take the donkey to church, to pay out Mr Eltringham. Sir Piers arrives just as they push the animal into the service.

The doctor recommends a vacation for Dina in a better climate, and Sir Piers decides to take the family to Guernsey for the summer. The family travels over on Nigel's steam yacht, and the children are delighted with the prospect. Relations are improving with Sigrid and Britta, although there are still occasional blow-outs with Britta, who is not used to being part of a big family and tends to tattle.

The Willoughby gang heads out for swimming, and meet Janie Temple and Pollie Ozanne, returned to the Island after staying in Brittany for a year. They find out that Peter and David are attending the same school as the Athertons, who appear shortly thereafter. The two families make friends, and have an enjoyable time together, along with Julian Lucy. At the end of one evening Maidie is worried; Nigel has taken the yacht out with Rex and Julian, without permission, and bad weather is expected. There is a very tense night, and Sigrid helps Maidie with her worry. A cable from France comes with word of their safety, and Nigel tells a thrilling tale when he returns. Sir Piers lays down the law to the insouciant Nigel about the risks he has taken, and threatends to take the yacht away from him.

Meanwhile, Anne Chester arrives with her new baby, Beth. The next round of excitement involves the young people sneaking off to a small island nearby in the middle of the night, play at ghosts to scare the locals. Rosamund and Cesca refuse to take part, and Pauline wakes up and insists on coming along. The first part of the plan goes well, but the boat comes un-moored stranding them until the tide goes down. Sigrid has discovered their exploit. She doesn't tell on them, but does get them to promise no more midnight expeditions.

The younger children are playing tableaux and other games when David bursts in with dire news; the newspaper declares that the next day is the day of judgement. Dr Chester backs up the claim, and the terrified children spend the day preparing, to be reassured by the adults the next morning, and teased by the older children. The younger children plot revenge for the teasing, and come up with an idea. The next day, older children are amusing themselves with paper games when their "Great-Aunt Ella from Australia" is announced. She is nosy and vocally critical of them, but they eventually figure out that she is Cesca in disguise.

They Willoughbys are dismayed to discover that Mr Eltringham is visiting the area, and will be staying with them. Maidie is very vocal about her disgust, which worries the much more mature Rosamund and Cesca. The Willoughbys declare war; they show up for dinner the first night in formal clothing (plus cologne that makes him ill), they spike his tea with Dina's medicine, booby trap his window, booby trap his cigar and flour his pillow, among other things.

Con, Janie and Julian join in with glee, but Rosamund and Cesca refuse to play along and Cesca, in fact, appears quite taken with Mr Eltringham. Mr Eltringham takes things in good humour, and manages to score with his own return jokes.

The gang is out by the shore, contemplating the end of the summer. Janie and Pauline are going to Paris to study (Janie to the Conservatory), Maidie to study music in London. They are playing a story game when David falls partway down a cliff. He is heroically rescued by Mr Eltringham, ending the feud, and resulting in his engagement to Cesca.

Other Notes: Gerry is studying music with great success, Rosamund is reading history at Somerville, Con is to be Games Prefect the following term.

---

So, what do you think of the Willoughby scamps and their behaviour (and of Sir Piers's approach to caring for his family)? Any favourite pranks? What do you think of Mr Eltringham's interference in the Willoughby's affairs, and the later conflict? Did anyone else notice that the Doomsday scene is straight out of L.M. Montgomery (and the story game from Louisa May Alcott)?

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 29 May 2018, 10:53 
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jennifer wrote:

Did anyone else notice that the Doomsday scene is straight out of L.M. Montgomery (and the story game from Louisa May Alcott)?


Yes, I mentioned day of judgement story recently on another thread. The beginning also reminds me of The Secret Garden, heartbroken widower travelling to forget his sorrows, there's even a child with a bad back there, though not much other resemblance between Dina and Colin.

The unexpected stepmother turns up again in School at the Chalet, with Grizel's story - and another author using it much later is Gwendoline Courtney in Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre (aka Stepmother, and Those Verney girls)

It makes an interesting theme and source of conflict, particularly with the addition of Britta, who is in a very difficult situation, only child thrust into middle of large family, especially as they don't know in advance.

The meeting with the Guernsey clan echoes the previous story when the Athertons do the same thing, nice to meet them all again, but it does make a large cast of characters, almost like a small school (a co-ed Chalet school on holiday?)


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 29 May 2018, 11:12 
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I find it a bit different from the usual EBD books, in that she's not normally keen on "scamps". It's one of those books which probably seem hilarious if you read it as a child, but, as an adult, you think how badly-behaved the kids are. I'm starting to sound like a disapproving Victorian great-aunt, sorry :lol: . But can you imagine EBD's comments if someone in the CS books had taken a donkey into church, or played pranks on their tutor? It's good fun to read, but kids like that would do my head in if I met them in real life.

The Great Aunt Ella storyline reminds me a bit of Mr Rochester dressing up as an old woman in Jane Eyre!

Sir Piers is one of a long list of totally irresponsible fathers in EBD books. The way the children react to having a stepmother sprung on them isn't unrealistic, though. Apparently Diana, Princess of Wales and her siblings were pretty horrible to the second Countess Spencer! Sir Piers, like Mr Cochrane, just doesn't seem to have stopped to think. They make the likes of Jem and Jack look like candidates for Father of the Year. I wonder how much of that idea of irresponsible fathers stemmed from EBD's own dad walking out?

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 29 May 2018, 20:32 
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Not a fan of this book which I first read a number of years ago and could barely get through. I have read it a couple of times since then and whilst it has grown on me slightly I don't particularly enjoy it. Some of the scamps are just plain nasty.

Quite likely EBD did base the irresponsible father on her own or else made him that way because of her father.

Edited to add - Yes, I also read Diana and her siblings were horrible to the stepmother ("Raine, Raine go away") and to their nannies.


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 31 May 2018, 13:10 
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Yes, Diana and her sisters called their stepmother 'Acid Raine'. Not that she didn't deserve it at times.

Apparently, she threw Charles Spencer out of his rooms in the Heir's Suite, made him sleep in an attic room, and redecorated the rooms and installed her own son in them.

Sir Piers seems to me to be selfish and neglectful. He abandons his children and travels the world to get over his grief at losing his wife, but never seems to think that his children are grieving for the loss of their mother.

He also believes that he can just walk back into the house, introduce his second wife, and gain instant obedience from all his children.

As a hopeless father, he must lead the entire group of those in literature. He's not actively cruel, just simply has not the faintest glimmering of an idea that children need decent, caring parents.

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 02 Jun 2018, 01:31 
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This was actually the very last of the CS related books I managed to read, and it was a bit of a letdown. The scamps are obnoxious brats - to misquote EBD, it's *not* a nice naughtiness. Maidie and Rex, in particular, are way too full of themselves while actually being undisciplined, vindictive and immature. Sir Piers is probably the worst of the CS parents who allegedly loved his kids (Captain Temple is close with his "die and leave my daughters destitute" retirement plan, and I don't think Prof Richardson cared for his kids).

We actually see several cases in EBD where they spousal relationship is seen as way more important than the parent child one. When Jack is thought dead it's said that while she loves the triplets, Jack is everything to her, and Captain Temple isn't even able to look at his kids when his first wife dies. And we've got various cases of devoted wives who have to follow their husbands abroad to care for them, but are happy to leave their daughter to haphazard care in England for a years on end.

As an aside, I'm curious how step-family relationships have changed in modern times. In EBD's day, step-relations were the result of remarriage after the death of a parent (and a suitable mourning period), and in many cases would have been to a large extent practical, with a widowed mother needing financial security, and a widowed father needing a mother for his kids and manager for the home. Step-families are much, much more common these days, but are almost always the result of divorce rather than death (other parents are still in the picture) , and are generally for love and companionship rather than practical necessity.

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 02 Jun 2018, 07:18 
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There are some widows/widowers in the books, like Francie's stepmum, who remarry for love, but it's a different ball game because the other parent is not around, so it's always going to feel as if the step-parent is, to some extent, taking their place.

It'd certainly be interesting if Grizel's natural mother had been around to tell the second Mrs Cochrane what she thought of her for treating Grizel so badly! Or if Elfie had been living with her natural mother when her stepmother died - would she have felt obliged to move in with her father and half-brothers?

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 02 Jun 2018, 08:12 
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jennifer wrote:
We actually see several cases in EBD where they spousal relationship is seen as way more important than the parent child one. When Jack is thought dead it's said that while she loves the triplets, Jack is everything to her, and Captain Temple isn't even able to look at his kids when his first wife dies. And we've got various cases of devoted wives who have to follow their husbands abroad to care for them, but are happy to leave their daughter to haphazard care in England for a years on end.


I wonder if that was actually quite a common thing - albeit, probably in an earlier generation than EBD is actually writing about. And how much it was class related (in real life, not in the CS)? Upper classes having staff to care for the children? For the middle classes, the man, the breadwinner, automatically being the person in the family to whom all must defer? Not so much in the working classes, maybe, where everyones income mattered....?


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 02 Jun 2018, 11:28 
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I have a feeling that the greater importance of the spousal relationship versus the parent-child one was very much a reflection of the times, though possibly more so in better off families.

The children of such families will very often have been in the care of nannies or other forms of help, and remote from their parents.

But in fact, at a more general level, I think within my own life-time I have witnessed a huge swing towards putting children first, to an extent that I actually find quite difficult to accept at times.

It's a very strange mixture nowadays of allowing, and even encouraging, children to make decisions they are not yet capable of and ignoring them completely whilst you fiddle on your mobile.

That's of course a very sweeping statement and reflects both my age and my frustration at the contrasts I see in the UK and in the Czech Republic! Sorry.....

Back to Seven Scamps - I realise I bought it a while ago but was saving it up for a rainy day and I haven't yet read it. And now it's in the wrong country......

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 02 Jun 2018, 11:29 
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Alison H wrote:
The Great Aunt Ella storyline reminds me a bit of Mr Rochester dressing up as an old woman in Jane Eyre


And it sounds a bit like a part of one of the Mrs George de Horne Vaizey stories I read recently, A Houseful of Girls, where the girl we're meant to like most of all the sisters dresses up as an old woman as a joke, and thus disguised calls on two neighbours, one of whom is a determined recluse.

Going back earlier, something the same turns up in Charlotte Yonge's The Daisy Chain, where one of the brothers pretends to be a young woman, and calls on his own sisters, as well as a neighbour - a thing which is seen as very reprehensible.

(It's always women that people get dressed up as - is it just not as much fun to think of someone being disguised as a man?)


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 02 Jun 2018, 15:08 
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Housemate wrote:
Alison H wrote:
The Great Aunt Ella storyline reminds me a bit of Mr Rochester dressing up as an old woman in Jane Eyre




Going back earlier, something the same turns up in Charlotte Yonge's The Daisy Chain, where one of the brothers pretends to be a young woman, and calls on his own sisters, as well as a neighbour - a thing which is seen as very reprehensible.

(It's always women that people get dressed up as - is it just not as much fun to think of someone being disguised as a man?)


In "Cranford" Peter Jenkyns had dressed in his sister's clothes and walked around the garden cuddling a bundle which people thought was a baby, scandalising the neighbourhood and badly upsetting his family. His father thrashed him for it, resulting in Peter leaving home.


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 03 Jun 2018, 14:27 
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cestina wrote:
It's a very strange mixture nowadays of allowing, and even encouraging, children to make decisions they are not yet capable of and ignoring them completely whilst you fiddle on your mobile.


I think they are the same thing. In both cases, the parents are taking the easy route of irresponsibility.
Previously, that kind of neglect was of the classes that had their children looked after by other people and of the classes so overwhelmed by life (poverty, poor housing, poor education) that they were hopeless.
What surprises us is the spread of that attitude into the middle-classes.


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 03 Jun 2018, 14:39 
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Victoria wrote:
cestina wrote:
It's a very strange mixture nowadays of allowing, and even encouraging, children to make decisions they are not yet capable of and ignoring them completely whilst you fiddle on your mobile.


I think they are the same thing. In both cases, the parents are taking the easy route of irresponsibility.
Previously, that kind of neglect was of the classes that had their children looked after by other people and of the classes so overwhelmed by life (poverty, poor housing, poor education) that they were hopeless.
What surprises us is the spread of that attitude into the middle-classes.


I am not entirely sure that is the case Victoria - I see a genuine belief in young parents that they have to "empower" their children, that the children have the right to have a say in everything and, it seems to me, that their say overrides the wishes of the grownups around - who are not of course always the parents.

Of course I am generalising here, but I see enough of it to be disturbed by it.

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 03 Jun 2018, 15:18 
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May I gently nudge this back on topic?

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 03 Jun 2018, 16:06 
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Back to Seven Scamps - I think EBD gave herself rather too large a cast here. Some of the Scamps don't get much of a story, David and Peter seem interchangeable, and Marjolaine gets very little mention. Once they get to Guernsey trying to keep track of everyone is even worse. It's a while since I read it, but I think she concentrates most on the older ones - Rex and Maidie making friend with Janie and Julian. I would have liked a bit more about Marjolaine and Pollie, particularly the latter.


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 03 Jun 2018, 17:19 
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That happens with the Maynards as well. Stephen, Charles and Mike are male versions of Len, Con and Margot respectively, and Felix is just a younger version of Mike!

The theme of young uncles/aunts who are more like siblings crops up in both this book, with Nigel, and A Head Girl's Difficulties, where Cesca is actually being brought up by her half-sister. It also happens in the EJO books, where Roddy, like Cesca, is being brought up by his half-sister, and doesn't know at first that she and her husband aren't actually his parents. I don't know if it was an "in" storyline in the 1920s, but, despite the many and varied family complications we get in the Chalet School books, we don't get that one again!

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 03 Jun 2018, 17:30 
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What about Gwensi? Ernest is her half-brother and I think when she is younger his sisters are also involved in her upbringing.


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 11 Jun 2018, 15:37 
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"They had met Sir Piers two years before in Algiers, and he had been attracted to them first of all by Britta's long fair plaits."

I assume this means Britta's hair stood out in a city where long fair plaits are a bit of a rarity, but it just makes me think Sir Piers seems awfully aware of teenage girls' hair. Maidie warns Marjo against cutting her hair because Sir Piers will be upset.

I'm not crazy about this book so far. David, Peter and Marjolaine are superfluous. Maidie and Rex are big kids in a strop. Tim is a little kid in a strop. And Dina barely has a presence.

Sir Piers is one of the worst fathers in the world. What is it with him and Captain Temple? Surely the best way to honour your late wife is to make sure her children are cared for properly. Not to mention you should be doing that anyway because they're your kids too. Swanning around the world for a few years without a thought for your children is the height of selfishness!

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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 18 Jun 2018, 17:49 
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jennifer wrote:
All-in-all, pretty much everyone is miserable.
I know. It's odd, because it's a book for children, and it's also odd that I never remember it as a particularly miserable book - not in the same league as Eustacia, anyway.

I think I feel sorriest for Britta because she is so alone; the others at least have each other, but Britta no longer even has the undivided attention of the one person she was used to being with.


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 Post subject: Re: Seven Scamps
PostPosted: 20 Jun 2018, 14:48 
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I finally finished this one. It perks up when the Willoughbys go to Guernsey, but overall, I find this book has a rather unpleasant feel to it. There's an undercurrent of anger in Rex and Maidie pretty much throughout the entire book, first because of Eltringham, then because of Sigrid and Britta, and then again because of Eltringham. The younger children just seem a bit dysfunctional. Not that I blame them since Sir Piers makes shockingly poor parenting decisions.

I felt sorriest for Britta, who goes from undivided attention from her mother to being shoehorned into a large family in a foreign country. None of the Willoughbys seems to consider she might be struggling to adjust, and no one seems to care enough to make that point. Not that I completely blame the Willoughby children since being landed with a new stepmother and stepsister wasn't easy for them either.

Reading this feels like being asked to enjoy a series of bad behaviour. I'm sure I would have felt differently as a child.

My favourite pranks were the ones by Mr. Eltringham, particularly when he finds the clock behind his bed and puts it in the boys room so they are suddenly woken up at 4 a.m. Serves them right!

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