By Sylvia Waugh
Who, or what, the Mennyms are is best summed up by a few lines from Chapter Three:
“They were not human you see — at least not in the normal sense of the word. They were not made of flesh and blood. They were just a whole, lovely family of life-sized rag dolls.”
When Kate Penshaw died forty years ago, the ten dolls she created came to life. Miss Quigly and nine Mennyms were each “born” with their own histories and personalities. Collectively they’re able to tend to all the household needs, but they’re careful not to draw attention to their unusual existence. To appear human, they “pretend” various activities, including sitting down to dinner together though they needn’t ever eat.
Sir Magnus, aka Grandpa Mennym, is quite proper with a respected past. He writes articles, some about his heroics in the military, for academic publications. He manages all his business via post and is able to remain unseen. His wife, Tulip, takes care of the household finances. Their son Joshua works as a night watchman at a local factory. He disguises himself well and only ever converses with one person, to whom he just appears shy. Joshua’s wife Vinetta makes clothing to be sold in local shops. Orders are placed over the phone and Appleby, one of the couple’s five children, makes the deliveries.
Appleby is fifteen and the exact picture of a difficult teenager. She’s insolent and audacious. She’s also the only one who can pass for human in the outside world, making her fearlessness all the more dangerous. Soobie is the oldest child at sixteen and is very practical. He is the only one who won’t partake in the family’s “pretends.” He’s also made from blue yarn. The twins, Poopie and Wimpie, are around five or six, and are typically imaginative children. Though Googles is a baby and mostly just sleeps, when she is awake she’s quite happy and playful.
Miss Quigly, the poor thing, lives in the hall closet and comes to “visit” every couple of weeks. The Mennyms, with the exception of Soobie, pretend not to notice when she sneaks out of the closet, goes out the side door, around to the front of the house and rings the bell. After visiting with the family for a few hours, Miss Quigley departs through the front door, sneaks back into the house and then into her closet until the next visit.
The Mennyms have lived in the same house since their creation. For forty years they’ve been paying rent to the inheritor of Kate’s estate through a management company. When they receive a letter from Albert Pond, the nephew of the man who owns their house, they fear discovery. Uncle Chesney has passed away; Albert is the Mennym’s new landlord and he wants to pay a visit to meet them. For obvious reasons, this cannot happen.
The family has other pressing issues to deal with. Joshua is laid off and must try to find another job in which he can remain concealed. Appleby is engaging in a secret pretend of her own and Soobie has found an unfinished doll tucked away in the attic. She’s another Mennym and his very own twin!
Waugh is a gifted storyteller and is able to draw readers into the lives of these unlikely protagonists. She’s created characters that are captivating and relatable, and the troubles they face are familiar and real, even if the Mennynm’s are not.
I look forward to sharing reviews of the Mennym’s other adventures as well. I thoroughly enjoyed them all.