Jane is remarkable in her town for being unremarkable. In fact, she and her grandpa are the only people she knows who aren’t world famous or incredibly gifted. But “everybody is so busy being talented, or special, or gifted, or wonderful at something that they sometimes forget to be happy.” And sometimes there are advantages in being ordinary, especially if events get out of hand and a level head proves to be just the ticket for restoring sanity.
The main plotline follows the grand unveiling of a soon-to-be-world-famous bell tower and its probable effect on the town’s own lake monster–which rivals Nessie herself, if the Mayor of Remarkable can only prove their monster’s superiority. Everybody is trying to prove something about themselves or their identities–in our achievement-dominated culture, the story could be taken as a light-hearted cautionary tale.
However, the plot is overwhelmed by the premise. Like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Remarkable is governed by the What if? to the detriment of the What? (that is, the internal logic of the story). Subplots and remarkably-named characters abound—over twenty characters, though the author does an excellent job of management and deft re-introduction. Besides the lake monster, there’s a pirate subplot, a tale of thwarted love, a mystery of hidden identities, a school story, and two evil twins for the price of one! The mysteries aren’t that mysterious and the surprises unsurprising, but it’s good clean fun, with enough action to keep pages turning. Also a nice, unsubtle takeaway: “’The world is a wonderfully rich place, especially when you aren’t trapped by thinking you’re only as worthwhile as your best attribute.”
- Worldview/moral value: 4 (out of 5)
- Literary value: 3.5
The Tooting’s adventures begin when Dad announces he’s been sacked—the best news ever, because it means they can travel. “The word for today is adventure!” Teenage Lucy isn’t thrilled and as for little Harry, just falling out of his high chair is an adventure. But Jeremy (known as Jem) finds the prospect made-to-order, especially when Dad buys a rusty 1966 camper van for their trip and father and son fix it up together. But once they set off on the road, the vehicle appears to have a mind of her own, insisting on a change of headlights, tyres (she’s British, you know), fenders, and finally a full transformation into the flying car of Ian Fleming’s imagination. “’This engine doesn’t want to do anything,’ said Dad, ‘because it’s just an engine. It’s the Tooting family that wants to do things. The engine will do as it’s told.’ How wrong can a dad be?”
Since I never read the original book or saw the movie, I can’t make comparisons, but apparently Fleming’s heirs chose Frank Boyce to write the sequels for a reason. He’s an interesting writer with a fun style and unexpected depths (someday I’ll review Millions), and he’s just romping here. The Tooting’s road trip leaves the road and takes them to Paris (where they land on top of the Eiffel Tower), Cairo, the South Seas, and a surprise destination that must be the ultimate cliffhanger—sequels to follow. On the way we encounter the exaggerated characters, cool gadgets and outlandish villains of a James Bond movie—Boyce even throws in an Astin Martin DBS, with “safety features.” The plot moves at breakneck speed, lobbing syntax and vocabulary like explosive devices (I had to look up “chicane”—chicane? Oh yes: suggestive of “chicanery”). It’s just for fun—but very literate fun, and the family is a model family, in its own quirky way.
- Worldview/moral value: 3
- Literary Value: 4.5