A slapstick adventure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 2004, 12:00am

Here we have another take on of the old idea of children being awful and adults being incompetent. We've seen all this on the screen in the Home Alone movies and read it in the recent hit books A Series of Unfortunate Events.

But somehow British author Sam Llewellyn manages to throw this well-worn formula into the melting plot and come up with an amusing and spiky slapstick adventure that is fresh and funny, if not completely original. Little Darlings isn't a laugh-aloud read but it will make you chortle as you are reading it.

Of course, the little darlings of the title are anything but little darlings. The three Darling siblings, Daisy, Cassian and Primrose, are ghastly monsters in the shape of young children. Whenever a new nanny arrives in the household it is war with no holds barred.

Little Darlings begins right in the middle of a classic Darling children versus nanny battle that ends up with the unfortunate nanny being taken off to hospital in an ambulance.

Slapstick humour is difficult to pull off on the printed page because it is so visual and needs to be seen to be effective, but Llewellyn's writing in this first chapter is crisp and quick, and we do feel we can see Nanny Dodgson hurl head-first into a bath of custard and then plummet headlong down the stairs. This is good stuff. Then the plot kicks in and the pace of the book slows down.

The Darling parents are so filthy rich that they can afford to ignore their children and pay professional nannies to look after them. But all the local nanny agencies are at the end of their tether when it comes to the Darling family.

When Mr Darling phones around the agencies looking for yet another nanny to come and look after his delightful children, he meets with stony responses. No nanny in her right mind would go and work for the Darlings.

Then Nanny Pete arrives at the Darling house and things take a turn for the different. Nanny Pete is not what 'she' seems and it is not the Darling children that 'she' has come to keep an eye on.

The wacky plot of Little Darlings now takes over and soon the Darling children are involved in a crazy adventure that even they could not have dreamed up.

Apart from the gripping silliness of the plot, what makes this book better than expected is the smartness of Llewellyn's witty writing style. His characters and plot are way over the top but his smart storytelling keeps the book from becoming trivial and instantly forgettable.

Little Darlings

By Sam Llewellyn

Published by Puffin

ISBN 0 14 131691 8

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com