Friday, April 1, 2011

The Crew of the Belinda (Review)

Set entirely in Scotland, The Crew of the Belinda was published in 1945 and tells the story of the three Macfarlane sisters: Lilias, just about to turn sixteen, Frances Mary, known as Fanny, who’s about to turn fifteen and Pips, whose real name is Juliet. The girls must all have been born in quick succession because Pips is also said to be fourteen. The tale begins with the girls coming home to their little village twenty miles from Glasgow for their summer holidays, only to discover that their father has gone off and forgotten to arrange money for them at the bank. The girls decide to rent the house to holidaymakers for the summer and go to Loch Lomond, where they have a boat called the Belinda. They can live on the boat for free and get by on the rent.
The story doesn’t really pick up until they get to Loch Lomond, and the first few chapters drag a little. Before deciding to rent the house, they are faced with the prospect of having a dreaded Aunt Mattie come to stay with them, and spend a long time wriggling out of this. And there is a shocking scene in which Fanny and Pips actually try to burn their house down to prevent their aunt from coming to stay. How this could have been included in a children’s story or got past the editor is bewildering.
However, once they finally reach Loch Lomond and locate the Belinda, the story takes a turn for the better. Pips meets a school friend and her brother, Elizabeth and Robert Buchanan, and the girls have to find a way to survive because they are broke, the rent money only being expected over a week later. On two occasions they find themselves in possession of a five pound note, but both turn out to be false. Someone on the loch is making forged money. The girls become entangled in this mystery. They also try to make some money by helping the owner of a local book shop, who is going through a rough patch, by opening a library service, with the girls sailing around the loch with Elizabeth, delivering and collecting books. As this is a Jane Shaw book, there are a couple of coincidences. They find their father at the house of Sir Henry Chalmers, who is donating some books to Glasgow University, where Mr. Macfarlane works. He apologizes for leaving them without a farthing and gives them some money. The library service is a success, the girls foil the gang of forgers and an amusing remark brings the story to a close.
This is the only story Jane Shaw wrote about the Macfarlanes and it is a difficult book to assess. The descriptions of Loch Lomond are splendid and the adventures the girls have when they get there are exciting. For comic relief there is a particularly funny scene with treasure hunters fighting and falling into the loch. The characterization is good, but there aren’t the stronger personalities that would later blossom in the Susan and Penny books. Mr. Macfarlane cuts a rather unsympathetic figure by leaving his daughters to fend for themselves, and the book has an uncomfortable underlying feel about it because the children spend so much time worrying about having no money and struggling to get their next meal

This book has its commendable points, but it is not Jane Shaw at her very best. A little editing and tightening of the text in the earlier chapters would have improved it immensely, and a better reason could have been contrived for Mr. Macfarlane’s disappearance that would have made him more likeable. All said and done, I would give the book five out of ten.