Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery

Lammeroo and the Incorrigibles go off to London in this crackingly good second installment in the series.  Wolves out of water?  Well, yes, mixed metaphor.  But indeed they are!  In this book you will find: deuced adorable playwrights, fancy restaurants, ferns, velocipedes, West End premieres, and singing pirates.  And those are just the big ones!


Miss Penelope Lumley has received correspondence from her beloved former headmistress at the Swanbourne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Miss Charlotte Mortimer.  Miss Mortimer expresses a desire to see her favorite pupil again, as well as meet the Incorrigibles, about whom Penelope had written at length, particularly following the disastrous (and perplexing!) Christmas Ball at Ashton Place.  When presenting the proposal that she and the children take a trip to London, Penelope sets Lady Constance's fluttering mind alight with the rather less amusing prospect of the entire household going to London.  And what Lady Constance wants, Lady Constance gets.  Lord Frederick's "Blast!"s and "What!"s stand no chance against a wheedling plea punctuated with sad, big blue eyes.

So it is off to London that the entire household moves.  Penelope and the children take the train down, not being Of The Family and thus privy to a trip in the brougham.  Upon arriving at Euston Station, Penelope consults the guidebook that Miss Mortimer sent her with the postscript that it is absolutely the top-notch guide to London.  The fact that the Hixby's Guide is written in enigmatic verse and decorate with sketches of Alpine features such as mountain peaks and goats (which have nothing to do with London) is strange but not off-putting.  In fact, after an attempted theft (or was it?) on the train of the Hixby's, Penelope is not only determined to use it for navigation, but to keep it close at all times.  Unfortunately, the Hixby's Guide does not have something like a map to guide Penelope and the children from Euston Station to the temporary Ashton residence on Muffinshire Lane.

After boldly striking out in one direction, the little group walks on and on until Penelope admits they are hopelessly lost.  Let me interject, here, that I found London to be one of the most difficult cities to navigate.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the streets form a sort of vortex to suck you back toward major monuments, namely, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.  Now, the National Gallery was exceedingly lovely, and I almost got hit by a bus in Trafalgar Square, which was quite memorable, but I didn't need to end up there every time I was trying to go somewhere else.  I'd strike off toward some other destination, make a few turns, and hello again, Admiral Nelson!  This was pre-GPS smart phones, so I had to use (gasp!) a MAP to find my way around.  And I still ended up in bloody Trafalgar Square nine times out of ten.  So, in short, I completely empathized with Penelope's predicament.

Finding themselves in a narrow street in who-knows-what-district, Miss Lumley decides to ask for help.  She stations the children in a doorway containing a heap of rags.  Surprise!  The heap of rags is actually an elderly, semi-toothless woman identified as a "Gypsy" in the book.

*TANGENT ALERT*

Now for a slight tangent (which, I believe, is a term addressed in this book as well, but that's beside the point): I understand that in Penelope Lumley's time, a person would have used the word "Gypsy" without a second thought.  However, it is a racial slur, and so I will refer to her as the Romani woman (as Rom, Roma, or Romani are generally accepted terms by the people whom they denote).  I was disappointed in the author for persisting in using this word, because she could have easily had her very chatty narrator point out that "In Miss Penelope Lumley's day, the word "Gypsy" was used very often, but in modern times, it is not a very polite thing to say.  Let us use the word "Romani" instead."  OR the author could have just omitted the character's race altogether: the old soothsayer would have been fine with me.  That was really the only negative part of the book.

*END TANGENT*

The elderly woman promises to watch the Incorrigibles while Penelope goes in search of someone with a good sense of direction.  She finds a young man named Simon Harley Dickenson, aspiring playwright.  He also is extremely good-looking and very clever.  Meanwhile, the woman reads the children's palms and realizes they are "Wolf-Babies" and declares: "THE HUNT IS ON!" before hobbling off down the street.  This frightens the children, and Penelope, later, when she discovers them abandoned.  What does that mean?  "The hunt is on?"

Meanwhile, Mr. Harley Dickenson, coming from a seafaring family, uses his sextant to take readings and successfully conducts the whole party to Muffinshire Lane.  During the walk, he gains the trust of the children, who dub him "Simeroo," as well as Miss Lumley's affection, although she would never admit it to anyone--even herself.

The "house" that Lord Ashton got for them in London is more of a "Buckingham Palace-lite mansion," and Lady Constance is inconsolably irritated that she has had no letters or invitations from Society People yet.

Finally, Penelope reunites with her beloved Miss Mortimer at a very fancy restaurant, but her joy turns to puzzlement when Miss Mortimer instructs her not to ask questions about the children, to keep them safe, and above all, to regularly use the Swanbourne Hair Poultice.  Having forgotten to use it in the past few months, Penelope's normally drab, dark hair has become a brilliant auburn--the exact same tone as the Incorrigibles'.  Penelope is confused and a bit sad that her teacher will not tell her more, but promises to do so.  However, upon returning to the house, it seems that she has failed already!  The children are missing!  As it turns out, they've gone to the Zoo.

Once we hit this point in the narrative, it is a wild ride all the way to the end.  Penelope borrows a stolen velocipede and careens down the London thoroughfares whooping "Giddy-up, Rainbow!"  Simon procures tickets to the highly sought-after West End premier of Pirates on Holiday for all of them, but the very unpiratical content of the show aggravates the children and results in the entire cast chasing Penelope, the Incorrigibles, and Simon through the London streets.  Oddly, these pirate thespians have very sharp, very dangerous swords.  The hunt is on!

Will they escape?  Will they discover the mystery hidden in the Hixby's guide?  Will Lady Constance make a splash with her London society début?  You must read this to find out.

In this book, some questions are answered, and others raised.  I've seen many complaints that the mystery isn't resolving quickly enough.  It would behoove you to remember that Lemony Snicket took thirteen volumes to tell the tale of the Baudelaires, and even then, the ending wasn't exactly wrapped up in a bow.

I also really adore all of the talk about English language terms and idioms.  I am a complete nerd, so this is right up my alley.

All spelling mistakes in this review are entirely my own fault, as I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the print.  As we all know, English is a particularly thorny language to try and spell from simply hearing a word.  The narration continues to be utterly top-notch, and I often found myself laughing out loud when I would normally merely smile.  This was due to Katherine Kellgren's comedic timing and mastery of the material.

Chockful of charmawoooooo!


No comments:

Post a Comment