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by Claire Morrall

5*

Family are not always all you want them to be. Quinn Smith grows up with the same name as a character in his mother’s books, a funny little boy with a perfect life, an inspiration to thousands. But Quinn’s reality is far from the happy family life portrayed in the stories. His mother is a cold, remote, dislikeable woman who never wanted the child she writes of so lovingly in her stories. His sisters, the precociously capable triplets of the books, are, in reality, unhappy, self-obsessed bullies. Then there are the succession of foster children, who are never considered good enough to be integrated into the ‘perfect’ Smith family. The reality of the idealised, media-darling, happy-family tales of ‘The Triplets and Quinn’ is that of a dysfunctional, neglected, love-starved family with bonds so fragile that they simply disintegrate as the children grow old enough to rebel and the family falls apart.

Now in his fifties, Quinn has finally found the courage to make his escape, living in a caravan on a roundabout beside a motorway service station. It’s a world away from the privileged cold comfort of The Cedars, the family home immortalised by his writer-mother, but Quinn loves his lonely life, believing he’s hidden far enough away to have escaped his family forever. Then a terrible chance event throws him on the mercy of strangers, and he is forced into the realisation that families don’t have to be linked by blood.

Clearly inspired by the memories of Enid Blyton’s unhappy children, The Roundabout Man is a warm, delightful and very enjoyable read – and one that makes you think. Quinn is such an engaging character, his worlds – the current reality of his caravan life, the past life as the immortalised child of a famous writer, and the imaginary world of his mother’s books, where everyone is happy, the sun always shines, where there’s always another adventure to be had with a slap-up picnic at the end – are all beautifully evocative and detailed.

There were very few things that didn’t work for me, but one was the mysterious benefactor. So much was made of the unexpected gifts, I was expecting something more than we finally got – not a major shock-horror-I-wasn’t-expecting-THAT! Revelation, that would have been wrong, but I would have liked something a little more interesting, more satisfying, than the afterthought we got.

Then there was the ending. On first reading, the ending was unexpectedly melancholy and downbeat. I was a little upset. I wanted… something else, I’m not sure what, exactly, just something. But then I thought about it, couldn’t stop thinking about it – this book will take a while to leave my thoughts – and realised it was the only possible ending. Quinn had to leave the fantasy of his happy home and perfect childhood behind so he could finally move on. He has a new family now, the friends who were there for him when his blood-relations were not. He has a new life, a home he loves, finally, he’s free.

It’s not a perfect book, the  five star rating simply reflects the pure, peaceful pleasure I had reading this novel.  I found it beautiful, thoughtful, and very readable; highly recommended to anyone who enjoy a little gentle pathos, lightly brushed with kindness and humanity.

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