A typical English family turns out to be not so typical after all.
The Mennyms are a neat, respectable little English family living quite peacefully in their modest home. They have lived there for many years – forty in fact – without much to bother them. Out of the blue comes a letter from Australia. A certain Albert Pond has inherited the house and is their new landlord. He's a likeable enough chap, going by his letters, and wants to meet the Mennym family. He plans on making a trip to England. When would the family be free to meet him?
The prospect throws the Mennym household into absolute chaos. The problem? The Mennyms are not human. They are actually a family of rag dolls, made by the house's original owner, Kate. The exquisitely made rag dolls she left behind came to life and now reside in the house, functioning as a perfectly normal family. The family keeps a low profile in the neighborhood, wearing thick glasses to cover their button eyes and hats so they are not so conspicuous. Errands to the local shops are made quietly and with a minimum of fuss, so as not to draw attention.
There are three generations of Mennyms. Magnus and Tulip are the grandparents, Vinetta and Joshua the parents, Soobie and Appleby are the teen children, Poopey and Wimpey the twins and lastly is Googles, the baby. Not to be forgotten is Miss Quigley, who lives in the hallway cupboard. She likes to keep up appearances, knocking at the front door and pretending she has come from her house for a visit. Later she will officially farewell the family, but secretly slip in the back door and back to her cupboard. In fact, the Mennyms do a lot of pretending. Can they keep up a good enough pretence to make Albert Pond think they are real?
Sylvia Waugh's first book in The Mennyms series (she wrote five in all) is both charming and hilarious. They are a blameless family who simply want to get on with life undisturbed. The endearing comedy comes from the Mennyms trying to keep up appearances and seem normal. The family often devise ludicrous strategies to “pass” for human. Their cloth bodies often gets them into scrapes, like when Joshua, a night time security guard, finds that a rat has eaten the stuffing in one leg. He suffers enormous embarrassment when he tries to walk home with a leg that won't support him properly. Or there is the time when Soobie “scandalises” the family by blurting out in front of Miss Quigley that she lives in the hallway cupboard. The Mennyms' dignity and that of their lodger depends on a series of “pretends” and artifices. This is perhaps what makes The Mennyms so enduring, as one of its major themes is the fragility of our place in the world, and how our well being depends on the little kindnesses of others.
Highly readable and intimately human, The Mennyms is sure to captivate.
The Mennyms, by Sylvia Waugh. Published by Puffin. $14.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books