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Five Run Away TogetherReview by Keith Robinson (June 28, 2005)
The third book in the series brings the Famous Five once more back to Kirrin Cottage for the summer holidays. George heads off to the station to meet Julian, Dick and Anne as they arrive by train. Excited, they discuss plans for the holidays and decide it would be simply smashing to spend a week or so camping out on George's island. Besides, says George, it would be helpful to get away from the house as her mother is not feeling so well.
Arriving at Kirrin Cottage she grudgingly introduces her cousins to Mrs Stick, the temporary cook while Joan, the regular cook, is away ill. Nobody likes Mrs Stick, and she doesn't much like them either. She's a grumpy, sour-faced woman who immediately complains to Aunt Fanny that she hadn't bargained on three extra children coming to stay in the house when she took on the temporary job. To make matters worse, Mrs Stick's son Edgar is also living in the house—and Edgar is a horrible little brat who sings rude poems about "Georgie Porgie" and generally gets on her nerves. Surprisingly, George shows great restraint. She explains to her cousins that if she loses her temper with Edgar then Mrs Stick might walk out and leave Aunt Fanny without a cook—which would be very hard on Aunt Fanny in her current fragile state. But Julian isn't having any of it. He immediately takes charge and puts Edgar in his place.
For the most part, though, the children do their best to ignore Edgar and head out for a walk and a picnic. Mrs Stick doesn't exactly go overboard with the sandwiches, even though she's reportedly a great cook. But there's no point making a fuss. Aunt Fanny will be up on her feet again very soon and she can take over making sandwiches for picnics (because, as we know, there's no way the children can possibly make their own!).
But things suddenly go downhill. On return to the house, they find Edgar lounging about in the sitting room (where he shouldn't be) and reading one of Julian's books. The cheek of the boy! Immediately realizing something is wrong, George rushes upstairs to find her mother's bed empty. Where can she be? She rushes back to confront Edgar, worried sick about her mother. But Edgar is rude and insolent, and won't tell—and he gets a resounding slap from George. Then Julian finds a note from Uncle Quentin and it transpires that Aunt Fanny has been "taken very ill" and must stay in hospital for a few days or even a week. Uncle Quentin will stay with her, the note says, until she's better.
This sudden illness of Aunt Fanny's is a mysterious one that is never explained. Edgar says to George, "Your mother was suddenly taken very ill—with a terrible pain here—and they got the doctor and they've taken her away to hospital, and your father went with her. That's all." The exact whereabouts of the pain described by Edgar is unspecified. Is it a heart problem? A stomach virus? It's anybody guess what's wrong, and Uncle Quention explains nothing more in his note or during subsequent telephone calls each morning. Isn't George curious? I know I would be. When George cries that she didn't even say goodbye, and she wants to be with her mother, Dick makes the comment, "You don't know where they've taken her, and if you did, they wouldn't let you in." Huh? None of that makes much sense to me.
However, it's not worth dwelling on. This is just one of Enid Blyton's usual plot devices to set the scene of the adventure. First Joan, now Aunt Fanny. Mysterious and sudden illnesses abound in Blyton's books. But so do adventures and mysteries, so let's concentrate on those instead!
The Sticks have a dog called Tinker, a very stinky little dog that the gang start to call Stinker, much to Mrs Stick's annoyance. And as Timmy positively hates that dog and wants to attack it every moment he gets, Mrs Stick threatens to poison Timmy someday. Sure enough, one day Edgar takes food out to Timmy...and George, in a panic, rushes out, snatches it away, and offers to Tinker instead. Then it's Edgar's turn to snatch the food away!
It all gets worse. Now that Mrs Stick is pretty much in charge, suddenly her husband comes to stay—a small, dirty, unshaved man who says his ship's in and he's on leave. Apparently he has permission to stay while Mrs Stick is working there. There are lots of scenes after this where Julian has to march down to the kitchen and demand supper, and he's so politely rude that the Sticks are left fuming and speechless as Julian waltzes off with all the best food from the larder. It's easy to forget here that Julian is a mere boy, no more than thirteen or so, and yet Mr Stick—dullard as he may be—is easily intimidated by him.
With the Stick's thoroughly installed in the house, and the threat of Timmy being poisoned hanging in the air, George is very worried. She tells her cousins they should just go home—because she "has a plan" that doesn't include them. The plan turns out to be her running away to Kirrin Island, which George attempts late one night—much to Julian's annoyance, who goes after her and catches her just before she sails off. "Why don't we all run away together?" Julian suggests. Well, duh! I don't know what George was thinking of.
So the title of the book comes into play, and the children load up the boat and set off to Kirrin Island after first making it look like they've caught a train and gone off somewhere else. And so starts a wonderful time on the island together, away from the Sticks and the stinky little dog.
Actually, the adventure is really just starting. Strange flashing lights out to sea at night, a child's scream piercing the air, shadowy figures creeping about...Just what is going on? And why do the Sticks suddenly appear on the island? It's all very mystifying and downright annoying...and then Edgar stumbles onto the children's hiding place!
The first part of this book, with the children having to deal with the Sticks, is a very engrossing read. There are a few questionable aspects, like George not being able to go and see her mother in hospital, and her strange plan of running away on her own when she must have known full well the others would have come with her—especially as they'd all planned to stay on the island for a week anyway—but mostly it's a great read. The second part of the book is not so good, in that it becomes a bit of a pantomime; the children are hidden away on the island, and they're able to spook the Sticks with silly animal noises echoing around the tunnels and dungeons below the island. This little trick seems to have been done a million times before in Blyton's books! And as usual, the "bad guys" are portrayed as cowardly thickies; Mrs Stick kind of holds her own and snaps at her son and husband quite a bit, but Mr Stick is small and frankly weedy, while Edgar is just a snivelling brat, certainly no match for the likes of Julian or even Dick.
The final chapter seemed a little too pat for me, but I can't really go into it without giving things away. All in all it's a good book, but not quite as good as, say, Five on a Treasure Island in terms of all-round solid plot and pacing. But I did like the situation with the Sticks living at the house, and the subsequent running away to the island. I'm not quite sure why Mrs Stick had to go to work for Aunt Fanny though—there seemed to be no direct link between her working for the Kirrins and the goings-on over on the island. It's not like working at the Kirrins actually helped the Sticks in their fiendish little plot.
Now onto Five Go To Smuggler's Top, my most fondly remembered Famous Five book!
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