A blog about the life and works of Scottish writer Jane Shaw (1910-2000).
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Fourpenny Fair Review
As the title suggests, this is the fourth volume of Jane Shaw’s Penny series. It kicks off with Penny and Jill back in Friars Combe, near Bath, for the Easter holidays with their friends Laura and John Mallory. The girls are bathing the Mallory dogs when John arrives with the exciting news that the vicar is giving away half crowns. All four children hurry over to the vicarage to cash in on this unusual treat, only to discover that the money they collect is to be used in a Talents Contest. The participants have to invest their money and make it grow, and all profits are to be used to rid St. Ursula’s church of the death watch beetle. Jill decides to buy ingredients for Russian toffee and sell it to a sweet shop, Laura decides to make little bags for clothes pegs to sell to the local women, and John will gather primroses to sell to a florist. But Penny can’t think of anything to do and postpones her decision.
In the following weeks, Bath buzzes with activity. Penny and John find themselves embroiled in a jewel heist, which they manage to foil. A local family organizes a gymkhana at which Penny, in charge of the takings, is the victim of theft and feels obliged to reimburse the organizers, blaming the unhappy incident on her own carelessness. In the meantime, she simply can’t think of how to invest her half crowns, and this frustration, coupled with her new debt and the endless insults aimed at her by Jill, only add to her inherent sense of inadequacy.
However, things begin to pick up a little. Penny hits on an idea at last: buy a dachshund that is going for what seems to be a ridiculously low price and sell it to someone else for a handsome profit. But, although a buyer is found, she inevitably becomes attached to the little dog and wishes she could find a way to keep it. She also takes pity on a local orphan, Sid, and promises him that she will find a suit of armor for him to advertise the play that the kids at the orphanage are putting on at the fair. Sid, who has a bad stammer, thanks her and tells her that now the other boys at the orphanage will respect him if he can deliver on this promise. Only then does Penny realize that she has landed herself in it up to her neck, for where will she find a suit of armor of all things?
As this is Jane Shaw at her finest, there is nothing to fear. The armor will be found somehow and will play a crucial role later on. And no story by this author would be complete without a long lost treasure. Then there is the fair itself, the most memorable scene in the story. Penny helps Sid advertise his play by strutting around in the suit of armor. The vicar is delighted that it is a beautiful spring day and the money is just rolling in for his church fund. Everyone is working hard to make the fair a success. But that thief is about again, meaning more danger and adventure for Penny as the tale hurtles toward a brilliant climax.
This story is well crafted and packed with interesting events and characters. The children visit Stratford to see where Shakespeare was born and take in a performance of Twelfth Night. Penny befriends an American woman at the Memorial Theatre, but she also grapples with thieves and wins a prize at the gymkhana. In addition to picnics and trips to the country, there are also some funny scenes, such as when John dresses like a ragamuffin to go out and sell flowers so that people will feel sorry for him, and the hilarious scene in which Sid and Penny wreak havoc in Judge Toplady’s garden in pursuit of Bill the hamster. We also see a growth in Penny’s personality. After taking Jill’s insults for nearly the whole book, in the end she manages to stand up for herself and put Jill in her place.
All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read and highly recommended. I would grade it at 8 out of 10.