Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

Persephone Reading Weekend ButtonPersephone Reading Weekend, hosted by Paperback Reader and cardigangirlverity, is going on right now, and I encourage everyone to join and pick up a Persephone

I finished Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton at the beginning of February, and I am excited to participate in the weekend by posting this review today. It’s a great novel, and I highly recommend it.

Family Roundabout is the story of two families, intertwined by a marriage, a friendship, and a relationship. The Fowlers are county gentry, while the Willoughbys are the prosperous middle-class owners of the local mill; until their children come in contact with one another, the two families have little to do with each other because of the class divide. The patriarchs of both died before the novel begins, and the matriarchs are the focus of the novel. Mrs. Fowler is a gentle, unassuming mother, never telling her adult children and teenage daughter what to do but always there for them when they make mistakes. Mrs. Willoughby, on the other hand, is controlling, always there to tell each of her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren exactly how to live their lives. Mrs. Willoughby often resents Mrs. Fowler because she somehow is able to influence situations without lifting a finger, just by being herself, while Mrs. Willoughby has to be on hand constantly to guide every situation. Mrs. Fowler, though, while feeling a bit disdainful of Mrs. Willoughby, envies her ability to make quick decisions and wonders whether it would not have been better to give her children a little bit more advice. When her husband courted her, she suppressed her personality to become the unassertive woman he wanted, and she now fluctuates between saying sarcastic things to herself about her children and going with the flow.

The lovely endpaper of Persephone Book No. 24. When I received it as an inter-library loan, I was so excited to get a Persephone edition. To learn about the endpaper, just click on the image.

I found myself feeling much more inclined towards Mrs. Fowler. I thought her gentle care for her children and her willingness to let them make their own choices even if she feared they’d make mistakes was probably the better tact to take as a parent. At the same time, I found myself saying to her, “Just tell your daughter not to marry that man!,” or, “Tell that one to get over her jealousy.” Though there were times when she did bring out her opinion in extreme situations, I began to feel that her children would have been far happier if they’d been given a bit more guidance instead of always the gentle, comforting bosom on which to cry. And as Juliet Aykroyd states in her “Preface” to the book in the 2001 Persephone edition, “Mrs. Willoughby also shifts in our estimation. Her nurturing is to say the least unimaginative, but ‘tempered by genuine kindness.’ She is formidable but never malicious” (ix-x). Mrs. Willoughby may bully her children, but she does mean well. Her mode of parenting isn’t the best, but neither is Mrs. Fowler’s.

The two matriarchs are not the only subjects of this book. Family Roundabout follows the course of the two families from 1920 to the eve of the outbreak of World War II. Through a third person narrator, we hear from each of the children, sometimes their spouses, and the grandchildren. Crompton describes a situation or a character well, using very few words so that we know immediately who he/she is or what is going on.

The parenting of Mrs. Fowler’s and Mrs. Willoughby’s children is often explored. To put forward just two examples, one mother is controlling like Mrs. Willoughby, and a wife nags her husband, affecting their children. In these situations and others, the author shows the complexity of family relationships well. Crompton is adept at portraying grown children who were once raised in two very different manners who run into problems later in life, showing that all of them are liable to make mistakes.

All the adults have issues stemming from their childhoods, affecting their parenting, and it made me wonder if adding a couple who had sufficiently dealt with their issues and who were, on the whole, good parents though not infallible would have made a difference to the novel. On second thought, though, I don’t think it would because even children raised in good homes make poor choices later in life. After all, it’s part of being human to fail sometimes. Furthermore, probably nobody sufficiently deals with their issues enough so that they don’t affect any children they may have.

Overall, I really enjoyed Family Roundabout, and I highly recommend it.

MLA Citations:

Crompton, Richmal. Family Roundabout. London: Persephone Books Ltd, 2001. Print.

Aykroyd, Juliet. Preface. Family Roundabout. By Richmal Crompton. 1948. London: Persephone Books Ltd, 2001. v-xviii. Print.

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16 Responses to Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

  1. bookssnob says:

    I remember loving this, but the plot details have faded in my memory. Thank you for reminding me of what a wonderful and interesting book about parenthood and family life this is. I must reread it. The Persephone edition is beautiful; as is your quilt! I have an old hardback of this that I picked up cheaply, but I do think I’d like to replace it with the infinitely nicer dove grey edition; it’s so pretty!

    • Thanks, Rachel! I’m glad my review refreshed your memory. I definitely recommend reading it again, and I, too, would like to own the Persephone edition. It’s on my book wish list.

      And thank you for the compliment on the quilt! I think my great-grandmother, Jean Halpin Tewell, made it for me, and it’s something I cherish because she made it, it’s so beautiful, and she’s no longer alive.

  2. Cristina says:

    Thank you for your great review! This is one that I definately want to read.

  3. Like Rachel, this Persephone is vague in my memory but you have me itching to refresh my memory! I also love the quilt.

    Thank you so much for participating in Persephone Reading Weekend – enjoy.

    • I really recommend that you pick up Family Roundabout again, Claire.

      And thank you for the compliment on the quilt! I think my great-grandmother, Jean Halpin Tewell, made it for me, and it’s something I cherish because she made it, it’s so beautiful, and she’s no longer alive.

      And thank you for hosting the weekend with Verity! It’s great to be able to hear about Persephones I haven’t read, read other’s opinions of ones I already have, and get introduced to new blogs.

  4. This is one of the Persephones I’m very eager to read even though I know so little about it. Thanks to this detailed, thoughtful review I’m now even more eager to get my hands on a copy! And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the endpaper is so pretty.

  5. Pingback: Persephone Round-Up #2 | Paperback Reader

  6. Jo says:

    This is one I would like to read now I have finished my first Persephone.

    Lovely review.

  7. Simon T says:

    This is my favourite Persephone title, and the novel which helped me find that Persephone existed (as I already like Richmal Crompton’s wonderful novels) – although, oddly, it’s not one of the 50 or so Persephones that I own! Thanks for your fab review, I’m so glad you liked it.

    • Thanks, Simon! I can see why Family Roundabout is your favourite Persephone because it is such a great book; out of the 23 Persephones that I’ve read, Dorothy Whipple’s They Were Sisters would have to be my favourite, but it would definitely rank pretty high.

  8. Col Reads says:

    What a good review! I had never heard of this book before yesterday, and now I’m eager to read it!

  9. I really loved this book. I loved Mrs. Fowler too, but I fear I am more like Mrs Willoughby.

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