Buying a book because of a rave review is a risky business. Expecting something several degrees higher than the highest degree of excellence usually always disappoints. The book never turns out to be quite as funny/exciting/inspiring as the reviewer wrote. Well, that’s not the case with Gwen Grant’s Private – Keep Out!
Written in the voice of an 8-year-old girl, it records her daily struggles – in the early 1950s – with five older brothers and sisters, despairing parents – “If ever a man suffered,” is her father’s regular observation when confronted with his daughter’s latest escapade – school bullies, interfering relatives and annoying neighbours.
The charm of the book is that it so perfectly captures the thoughts of a child confronted by a world that neither understands nor appreciates her, not even when she narrowly avoids being blown up by an unexploded mine on the beach: “I could have been an angel by now flying around heaven playing a fiddle and nobody would be bothered.”
What makes it so readable is the breathless pace, with incidents and dialogue all crammed together on the page, dragging you along as you try to keep up with disaster after disappointment after argument and weary resignation to the ways of a fickle world. (On day’s outing to the seaside at Cleethorpes, she buys a hat “and it had Kiss Me Quick on the front of it but nobody did. I thought, what a rotten waste of money, but I left it on because you never know.”
I can’t recommend it enough.
*I bought it after reading Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm (also excellent), in which she wrote that Private-Keep Out! was ‘the funniest children’s book ever written’. No argument there.