Parody books seem to be in vogue at present; walk into any bookshop, and the chances are you will be confronted by a large table spread with such things as We’re All Going on a Bar Hunt in the first minute. I normally don’t buy into bookish trends, preferring to choose my own, often marginally obscure, reads at my leisure. When I spotted that the Famous Five had been updated for the twenty-first century, however, I couldn’t bring myself to let the books pass me by.
I was an enormous fan of Enid Blyton as a child, and all of my copies of the Famous Five series have been passed down by my mother, a once avid reader of the series herself. We both laughed mirthfully at Five Go Gluten Free and Five on Brexit Island when they plopped through the letterbox just before Christmas. The other two titles which I purchased on a great deal from The Book People were the slightly less amusing Five Go Parenting and Five Go On a Strategy Away Day.
I’m still reeling from the Brexit decision, and thought I would begin with that parody. The storyline deals with the gang avoiding real life on the night of the referendum, and retiring to George’s territory of Kirrin Island for a brief holiday. A fierce war soon ensues between George, a staunch remainer, and Julian, a traitor who voted to leave the EU. George is so horrified that she makes the decision that Kirrin Island itself should leave Britain, and holds her own referendum to that effect. Here, Vincent provides rather a light take on politics, which is both humorous and well-informed. The characters are still similar to their childhood counterparts, something exacerbated with the use of the series’ original illustrations. I felt myself very much disliking Julian in this volume due to his beliefs, whereas as a child I had been relatively indifferent to him. Five on Brexit Island will not heal the pain of the referendum, but it is clever and well-crafted, and provides a bit of light relief.
Five Go Gluten Free was next for me. Rather than choosing to follow a gluten free diet for medical reasons, Anne – very much a fan of health fads – decides that the whole group should cut out the majority of the foodstuffs that they so love; no pies, chips, or beer going forward. I found this volume the most funny of the four which I have read, particularly as I so associate the majority of Blyton’s child characters with a very British love of picnics and midnight feasts. The Famous Five are always eating, so the challenge of macrobiotic and wholefoods proves highly problematic. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments here, and a plethora of amusing one-liners. In this book particularly, the five translate very well to the modern world, and there is a marvellous feel of the utmost nostalgia to it.
My penultimate parody was Five Go Parenting, in which the group are given cousin Rupert Kirrin’s baby; he and his Eastern European wife have been put in prison after another one of their illegal schemes, and six-month-old Lily comes to live in the surprisingly incredibly spacious London flat which the five share. This was an amusing look into the world of parenting by those who were utterly unsure as to what to do, or how much the addition of a tiny human could change their way of life. Witty and well-executed, Vincent’s writing in this volume particularly echoes Blyton’s. I would deem Five Go Parenting a splendid tongue-in-cheek gift for the new parent, or a funny slice of nostalgia for those whose children are a little older.
Five Go on a Strategy Away Day was my least favourite of the series by far. I awarded it a three-star rating, but didn’t find it that funny at all, and indeed, there were no laughing aloud moments for me. In the book, the four human members of the group who, of course, work with one another, head into the countryside for a team bonding session. It culminates in an orienteering exercise, in which they are effectively up against all of the members of the Secret Seven. I did enjoy this merging of the groups, but found that here, the storyline was a touch lacking.
At just over 100 pages each, Bruno Vincent’s Blyton parodies are the perfect reads to give as gifts, or to settle down with yourself if you have an hour or two to spare.