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Six Cousins Again

Review by Keith Robinson (October 22, 2006)

Following on directly from Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm, this sequel deals with Cyril, Melisande and Roderick's move into nearby and newly-acquired Holly Farm. They have a good look about the place beforehand, and like what they see, but it's while they're at school that the furniture arrives and everything gets put in place. It's only on return home that they get to see their mother for the first time in months – odd since she had apparently been down to look at the place just a few days before. Anyhow, Rose seems quite satisfied with the place and has everything looking quite homely in no time at all.

All seems well. Running hot and cold water, central heating, clean modern rooms... Melisande is very happy indeed with her new curtains and bedspread and built-in cupboard space. Cyril is satisfied too, although he thinks his room is a little girly. Roderick gets another box room, much like the one he had got used to at Mistletoe Farm, only newer, so he's perfectly happy. Their father, David, is very pleased with the farm overall and looking forward to bringing in cows and sheep and hens, but in the meantime he has a good deal of preparation work to get on with. And Rose... well, she's about as happy as someone of her nature can be. For the time being anyway.

This book centers around Rose and her negative effect on the household. Despite a promising start to the new life at Holly Farm, Roderick – or Roddy as he has become known – is already missing the lavish spread of food at dinnertime. He stares glumly at the pathetic assortment of crackers at four o'clock teatime, which Rose insists upon rather than the preferred "high tea" at around six. In her mind this is the way civilized people live, never mind that it makes more sense for her husband, David, to come in at six o'clock like most farmers, and eat a hearty meal.

This seemingly minor thoughtlessness on Rose's part is just the start of all the troubles. Her desire for a "fine" lifestyle, and her absolute dread of lifting a finger to help around the place, is what this book is all about.

Melisande and Cyril both seem to have taken a few steps backwards since arriving at Holly Farm. Gone is the willingless to help around the farm; now they slip easily back into their old ways. Only Roddy holds on to what he learnt at Mistletoe Farm, and only he misses the place and wishes he were back there with Aunt Linnie's fine meals and Susan's dog Crackers, and the ponies and everything else. Unfortunately it's his fondness for life at Mistletoe Farm that gets him into trouble, starting with the dainty little tea that Rose serves up. Where's the cake? Where are the huge chunks of cheese and bread, and the enormous ham? How's a growing boy supposed to survive on a few wafer thin crackers? Rose refuses to give in to his pleas for more, so he goes to see Ellen, the surly cook – and she is not in the slightest bit interested in helping him out, sourpuss that she is. In the end it's young Sally, the friendly housemaid (related to Dorcas), who gets him what he wants – huge chunks of bread and cheese to take away and munch on every day after school.

Rose and Ellen are made for each other, each as selfish and lazy as the other. When it's time for the Christmas Day meal, both agree that the invitiation to Mistletoe Farm is a very good idea indeed. Ellen neatly gets out of cooking anything, and even offers to lend Dorcas a hand (in an effort to seem helpful). It's a very successful meal, and all are reminded once more of the sort of slap-up meals farmers' families should be enjoying. Rose is disgruntled at being compared unfavorably to Linnie, but cheers herself up by deciding to throw a party in February, to celebrate her birthday.

Melisande is by this time firmly in her mother's corner, and agrees to help with invitations and preparations. It'll be a proper party, Rose enthuses, with posh guests and lovely catered food delivered straight from London, and pretty frocks and dancing. She'll show the farm-clods at Mistletoe Farm how a party should be!

David is happy with the idea of a party, but the farm is still finding its feet and he insists that the food be made in-house by Ellen and Sally to avoid unnecessary expense. Rose reluctantly agrees. As the weeks go by, matters grow worse for David. A dog terrorizes and kills some of his sheep and lambs; the production of butter in his dairy runs shorter than expected due to first Rose, then Melisande, not getting on with the job; and then the gypsies arrive and things start going missing. By the time the day of the party draws near, David is almost frantic with worry. Now his horse is ill and his cows are refusing to eat. The vet says they have been poisoned and may die. And the ducks and hens have disappeared!

As a final insult, a van arrives from London to deliver expensive buffet food. Rose had gone ahead and ordered it anyway, despite David's explicit instructions to the contrary. Furious, he sends it away at once and confronts his wife about it. For once in a way, David raises his voice at her and sends her off in tears. Meanwhile, Sally – accused by Ellen of stealing – storms out and vows never to return, and Ellen – learning that she might now get lumbered with cooking for a party that night – packs up her things and leaves too...

As far as drama is concerned, this book has plenty of it, even more so than the previous book. David was described in the first book as "weak," but now he surprises everyone by slamming a few doors and raising his voice. It's not surprising, considering the pressure he's under! His family has divided; Rose and Melisande are being disloyal and going against his wishes, while Cyril does almost nothing to help. Sucked into the drama and witnessing everything that whining, lazy, pathetic Rose is doing behind her husband's back, the reader desperately wants David to shout a lot harder, perhaps even kick the woman out into the mud. But that wouldn't be very Blyton-ish.

Only Roddy is firmly by his father's side throughout the book, and he's rewarded when his father allows him to have a pet dog, despite that Rose has told him he can't have one. Roddy is overjoyed, and goes to see Twigg the poacher and his friend Tommy Lane; between them they have a few puppies to give away. Roddy finally gets what he wants the most, and what he deserves, and returns home.

But his mother tells him to return the puppy at once. Roddy argues that his father said he could have one, but Rose demands to know who is going to look after it when Roddy is at school. Filled with thoughts of his mother ill-treating the puppy, Roddy returns the puppy to Tommy Lane. Roddy vows never to forgive his mother for this, and shuns her from this moment on.

This is a serious tale, with some genuinely sad and shocking moments. How can a woman be so selfish and unkind to her family? She doesn't outwardly mistreat any of her children in any way, but she succeeds in making everyone's life a misery all the same, through sheer determination at being self-centered, lazy and pathetic.

But, fraught as the situation becomes, all ends well when Rose presents an ultimatum that backfires. She wants to leave Holly Farm and live in a town house, and she wants her family to come with her. David flatly refuses, but tells her she can have a town house if she wants (although how on earth they would pay for this is unclear). One by one the children state they will stay with their father at the farm, and Rose comes to the slow, dawning realization that her family don't need her – but she desperately needs them.

In the end, it's ironic that Rose changes her ways and starts mucking in like a proper farmer's wife only because she doesn't want to be alone without her family. Her husband and children are instantly forgiving when she gets up early and prepares breakfast, and has a meal ready on the table at lunch time, and promises to be more like Linnie in future. She even returns Roddy's puppy to him. But her long-awaited change for the better only came about for selfish reasons.

An excellent book, and it's hard to judge which is the better. They're hardly two separate books at all, more like two halves of the same. You could read one without the other, but you'd be missing out on an awful lot.

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