Innocence and inanity

A literal translation of Môr a Mynydd o Lyfrau might be “sea and mountain (made) from books”

Bruno Vincent: Five Go Bookselling
Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups
Hodder and Stoughton 2017

Maybe you missed it but Saturday 7th October 2017 was Bookshop Day in the UK and Ireland. I was involved in the third Crickhowell Literary Festival so I could hardly be unaware of it. I picked up this bit of free promotional material to see if I’d changed my mind about this expanding series of “Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups”. I found I had not.

Following on from Penguin Books’ re-vision of the classic children’s mid-20th-century Ladybird picture books allied with cynical new texts (on Mindfulness, The Mid-Life Crisis and the like) Hodder and Stoughton sought to cash in on this nostalgia trend with their updating of the Famous Five books. Do they work?

I’m afraid the best thing about these books are … the titles. Five Get Beach Body Ready, Five Get on the Property Ladder, Five on Brexit Island and Five Go on a Strategy Away Day are enough for me to raise a faint smile. But when it comes to sustained humour the whole is very tiring and unfunny indeed. A short extract from the short promo Five Go Bookselling might suggest the same to you:

In the stationery section, Anne was stacking the dot-to-dot envelopes, scented mindfulness erasers, tantric notepaper and positivity pencils. Books were all very well but this is where Anne felt happiest, and centred.

The point is that there’s only so far that you can go with “What larks!” and “lashings of ginger beer” before patience wears thin with the heavy-handedness of it all. Jokes about a customer who turns up to an indie bookshop saying “I’m looking for a book for my nephew. It has a blue cover …” are such old hat and make the heart sink. As does this bit of self-referential puff placed in the mouth of Julian:

‘Well, a new series of books charts [the Famous Five’s] exploits! They offer a comical view of the inanity and frustrations of modern life, as viewed through the innocence of four recently grown-up 1940s children.’

‘And a dog,’ said the old lady.

You possibly get the picture.

And it’s all been done before, marginally better I think, as this 1983 trailer for Channel 4’s Comic Strip adventure Five Go Mad in Dorset hints.

Finally, here are my reviews of the first two Famous Five titles, long before later books in the series started to become parodies of themselves.
Five on a Treasure Island:
Five Go Adventuring Again:

Bookshop Day was organised by Books Are My Bag, an agency which I’ve mentioned here before: it self-identifies as a “nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops” while trumpeting that “this collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors is the biggest ever promotion of bookshops” in the UK and Ireland.

The next BAMB event is Saturday Sanctuary which aims to “celebrate bookshops as a place of calm and respite from our hectic daily lives”. Set for the day after Black Friday (that recently imported fiasco — sorry, feast — of retail frenzy, er, therapy) on Saturday 25 November it no doubt could afford you a chance to browse titles to go on your Christmas list . . . which you hand hopefully to family and friends with no inkling of your real literary tastes.

Oh, as if by synchronicity this week is also National Libraries Week in the UK, “the annual showcase of all the creative, innovative and diverse activities that UK libraries have to offer.” We’re further told that “9-14 October is a chance to discover the range of things you can do at your library, from play and learning for children, to managing your health, to accessing wifi and games, to finding a job, a hobby or starting a business.” What are you waiting for? Oh, right, your local library closed last year due to local authority spending cuts …

Useful websites
Books Are My Bag:
National Libraries Week:
Crickhowell Literary Festival:


12 thoughts on “Innocence and inanity

  1. I read one or two of these because …. well, I won’t say why! But anyway, I read them and while the first few pages or so seemed hilarious in places, it wasn’t something that could survive the length of even a short book. I did read to the end but mostly it seemed even more dull than the originals of which I have many happy memories as a child. As you say, they work(ed) for children – i.e. the originals – but now as an adult my memories are probably best left untampered with. I have not read any more of them, though some of the shorter books with no connection to Blyton can be a laugh.

    1. Needless to say I agree with you — the ones I’ve glanced at are one-joke vehicles seemingly told over and over again. At least the Ladybirds for Grown-Ups ring the changes on topics for satire and ridicule, and the one or two parodies of mechanical handbooks for Thomas the Tank Engine or the Starship Enterprise are meticulous and fascinating and show a genuine and nerdish fondness for their subject.

  2. MrsB_inthehills

    I completely agree with your sentiments about the Famous Five rehash – some things are clever/funny but only for a short time. It’s a bit like the previously brilliant but becoming slightly annoying BBC satire W1A: there are only so many times you can be amused by the repeated “yes/no/absolutely” witterings. It’s lazy writing.

    1. Yes, a lot fewer belly laughs with W1A this time round, though we’re sticking with it for the moment. It’s the perennial problem with something innovative: how do you refresh it without losing its identity? In W1A’s case it’s not … all good then.

  3. I loved the Famous Five (and everything else I read by Enid Blyton) as a child, but have never felt tempted by these new books. Having read your thoughts, I don’t think I’ll be trying them and will just keep my happy memories of the originals!

    1. They really are a misconceived project, Helen, I can’t understand how they were given the green light and that more are being issued and, worse, being bought. Christmas tree fodder, I suspect.

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