The Strangest Family in England

Some of my favorite characters live inside of Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell.  Ordinary Jack is Book One of the Bagthorpe Saga.  The Bagthorpes are a family of geniuses, each with a precise number of “strings to their bows.”  That is, a number of talents.  All except for Jack, who is ordinary, and politely disdained because of it.  Jack is complaining about it to his Uncle (by marriage) Parker one day, who hits on a scheme to convince the rest of the family that Jack is in fact a gifted psychic who can see visions and predict the future.  Chaos, to a degree unusual even for the Bagthorpes, ensues.

Jack and Uncle Parker are a fairly rational pair, who will chart you through the madness of the rest of this cast of truly hilarious characters.  There’s Mr. Bagthorpe, a TV writer who loudly and frequently complains that everyone is disrupting the delicate vibrations he needs to write.  There’s Grandmother, who cheerfully starts an argument with everyone, and is in years-long mourning for her beloved pet cat Thomas, who everyone else remembers as the worst-tempered animal who ever lived.  There’s Uncle Parker’s daughter Daisy, who is four years old and likes to write on walls and set fire to things, often with literally explosive results.  There’s one scene involving a birthday party and a box of fireworks hidden beneath the table…  Daisy’s mother, Celia, is a poet and far too ephemeral and dreamy for this world.  She thinks Daisy’s spirit shouldn’t be restrained.   For reasons Jack never quite understands, Uncle Parker is madly in love with her.

That’s only a sampling.  They are all people I would never want to know in real life, and would definitely never want to let into my house (especially Daisy!) but they’re enormous fun to read about.

There are ten books in the series, of which I’ve read the first nine.  For reasons I can’t explain book number ten is extremely obscure and only available for very high prices.  The later books do vary in quality somewhat–they’re all fun, but at some point Cresswell stops having plots and just starts throwing the characters together and letting them react off of each other, and some of the books are better than others.  But the first few are excellent.

And Ordinary Jack is worth the read if only for the scene about the birthday party and the fireworks.

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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2 Responses to The Strangest Family in England

  1. Diane says:

    The Bagthorpes sound like the family in the movie, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” though more extreme. The books sound fun if you’re looking for slapstick humor.

    • Yes, it’s definitely slapstick humor! 🙂 They remind me a bit of the family in You Can’t Take It With You, but not so pleasant…less Frank Capraesque, and just crazy…

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