Famous Five Fun
It was at a family gathering that I noticed it. The buzz about Enid Blyton’s humorously reimagined Famous Five series. Two copies of Five Go Away on a Strategy Day were dispensed to the lucky birthday boy. The mid-forties birthday boy. But there were giggles from the gift givers. No embarrassment whatsoever over the unwrapped identical copies. It was just 'so him', apparently. And his spouse agreed.
'We've had at least three of those days lately' she tittered. I was beginning to feel a little left out.
'I know exactly who I'll give the spare one to,' the birthday boy said, laughing along. 'I thought of getting it for him already'. That's it, I thought. I'm going to see what all the fuss is about.
Hovering in the bookshop, staring at the array of titles in the new adult Five series, I was struck by how it did not seem to be doing anything for me. I didn't have that urge to delve in, open one of them, remember my childhood. It was something about the packaging. It didn't remind me at all of the original series even with Blyton’s signature emblazoned across the top. It didn’t pull on the nostalgia strings one little bit. Unlike the brilliantly reimagined Ladybird books for adults. I just couldn't help but whip those from the shelves. It was as if there wasn't even a choice. The matt faded colours on the covers. The exact shape and weight of the originals. No. There was something wrong here. For a start, the new Five series in front of me was in hardback, and slimmer than the originals. I don't remember anything but soft thick copies. Then there was something about the titles. Five Give Up the Booze. Five Go Gluten Free. Too overt. Pushing you into it. Five Go Parenting. Maybe I’d open that. Five Go to Brexit Island. Now that’s on topic, if a little try-hard. The words that thrummed in me as I stood there looking at the display were ‘cashing-in’ and ‘band-wagon’. Are we being taken on a commercially driven parody spoof-book ride?
Not to be one to judge a book by its cover, it would be dangerous for a writer to do so after all, I sauntered up to the cash desk to make some casual enquiries. Impeding the line of vision between me and the bookseller was a heap of Five Give Up The Booze. As if anyone purchasing a book might just want to purchase this one too. I plucked one from the pile. The bookseller laughed.
'I love how everyone starts out with such good intentions for a dry January, and then it just turns into a big joke', she said. It does? I was beginning to feel that I was missing out, again.
'I'll take one' I said. There. Part of the club. Finally, as my kids would say.
'How are they selling?'
'Oh brilliantly' she said but then she began talking about the Ladybird series. Now I couldn't exactly get nit-picky, but I really needed to find out about this series.
She didn’t say exactly but she let me into a secret. As a taster the promoters gave an unpublished copy of Five Go Bookselling to be read by staff in bookshops. Appetites were whetted as the booksellers found themselves tickled. Spot on, she said. The humour was just spot on. She’s clearly been influenced by the content. I set off, copy in hand to find out for myself.
The Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups series is written by humorist Bruno Vincent and published by Quercus. Much like the bookseller found, reading Five Give Up the Booze in January certainly seems spot on – so many people are on this very mission. Lashings of ginger beer from the childhood series have been replaced with the real thing, and after a booze fuelled New Year’s Eve party that leaves Julian, Dick, Anne and George with colossal hangovers, stuck to remember what has taken place, they pledge to go dry for a month. Anne makes them fill out ‘honesty sheets’ documenting how much they spend on alcohol a month. She reckons she could afford a massage with the money she will save, whereas Julian silently thinks he could buy a share in a tanning salon. The adventure culminates at a good friend’s wedding, where they remain ‘agonizingly sober’, even through Julian’s best man speech. The text is long at 105 pages and is peppered with Eileen Soper’s original line drawings, a nice touch. I found myself flicking through, looking for the jokes, waiting to be grabbed, but in the end I was not particularly taken with the story or the humour. There are some funny ideas though – Anne reverting to smoking with the tension of not being able to drink; Julian swatting the How to Write a Best Man’s Speech - many I know have been there.
The humour really lies in notion of the Famous Five characters as adults grappling with the modern world, rather than the content of the new series. Purchase them as fun gifts for friends and colleagues perhaps but do not expect them to hit the nostalgia nerves of their Ladybird forerunner.