Further Adventures of the Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

Further Adventures of the Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There was a moment, about a quarter of the way through reading, that I realised something very precise about Further Adventures of the Family From One End Street. I think it is better than The Family from One End Street which won the Carnegie and that realisation, sharp and sweet and intoxicating as it was, fascinated me. This book is better than the first and it was published nineteen years after it. That’s interesting.

So what makes this work so well? At first read, it’s a fairly straightforward book. The family from One End Street have adventures. Some of the children get measles and are sent to the countryside to recover. There’s a wedding to attend, a mishap involving a pig, and an outstanding conclusion set back in the house involving Mrs Ruggles, her youngest child and a – no, I won’t spoil that yet. But the secret about straightforward books – those books that feel simple and clean and easy – is that they are doing an enormous amount of clever and sharp and nuanced work just below the surface.

Consider a trip to the countryside. It is a whole new world into being, full of richly coloured characters to meet and new adventures to have. But we’re never dislodged from the story because we see it all from the perspective of the characters. Garnett stays with them so tightly that we meet the new world entirely through their perspective. The sound of a cow mooing in the distance in the middle of the night. The creak of a wooden floor. The mean lady who runs the local shop. It’s so simple and so, so smart. We’re never left with the other characters – we’re always, always with the Ruggles.

It’s also important to recognise that The Ruggles remain one of the few working class families to be represented in the literature of this period and to have their representation done with a lot of love and respect. (I am conscious that Garnett herself came from a middle class background and as such, will have made certain decisions here. I’m also conscious of the paucity of working class authors of children’s literature of this period. These are issues that publishing is still working on today.). Not only do these books document a way of life that is pretty much lost now, they also do it with a lot of fun and joy.

There will be detail that doesn’t make sense (especially for modern readers unfamiliar with the period) but most of it can be deduced through context. The other stuff doesn’t really matter. This is just rich and gentle and good storytelling, cleverly done and funny and smart and simple and so, so well done. I loved it, entirely.

(Also, if you’re wanting a modern readalike, this begs to be read alongside something like Binny for Short or the Casson family series from the great, great Hilary McKay).

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