The Bell Family (by Noel Streatfeild)

I've loved the books by Noel Streatfeild since I was a child; I have quite a collection, but from time to time I check to see if any of her lesser-known books are available. I was delighted to discover this one inexpensively at The Book Depository a couple of months ago.

This particular edition of 'The Bell Family', published by Vintage in 2014, is an attractive one which includes a brief biography and glossary in the back, clearly intended for modern children who don't know much about the 1950s when the book was originally written.

This particular novel is a little unusual in that it started out as a series of radio plays. It features the Bell family, who bear several striking resemblances to the author's own family, as portrayed in her autobiography 'The Vicarage Family'. The father is an impoverished but likeable Vicar, while his wife struggles to make ends meet and keep her children in clothes.

As ever, with this author's books, there are some highly talented children: Paul, the eldest, is highly academic and wants to be a doctor. Then there's Jane who loves ballet, although she doesn't think she has any chance of getting 'proper' ballet training. Angus, the youngest, sings well enough to have a place at a choir school but really doesn't want to sing. And then there's Ginnie, the third child, who is probably the one closest to Noel Streatfeild in character - kind-hearted but impulsive, bright but rebellious.

Mrs Gage, the cleaner and general confidante of the family is a delightful creation, and Esau the dog plays quite a role too. As well as Miss Briggs, who cycles through the parish and attempts to bestow good advice on everyone...

The book is a series of incidents through the year. It's character-based rather than having any major plot although there are several ongoing threads. It shows the family contrasted with their rich and materialistic relatives; it covers day-to-day problems and stresses; it touches lightly on the parents' ideas about discipline, which were probably quite radical in the 1950s, and it also shows the children making some important decisions.

It's far from the best of Noel Streatfeild's work; however I found it very readable, hard to put down at times. I'm pleased to have this in my collection at last and would recommend it to anyone - adult or child - who enjoys this authors writing, but not as an introduction to Noel Streatfeild.

Review copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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