Most of we baby boomers remember the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books with fondness. So imagine the Famous Five as young adults on an Australian gap year and you have Enid Blyton, Five Go Down Under by Sophie Hamley.
Freezing cold in their London digs, the five go off to Sydney for a gap year to get some Antipodean experience, and hopefully, find jobs for the summer. It is obvious that they are still affluent, so money is not an issue and there are no obstacles in their way. Even Timmy the dog is part of the adventure and the five arrive in sweltering humidity as they find their Bondi accommodation.
Realising their accommodation is a backpacker’s pad complete with guitar playing New Zealanders who have lost their jandals and are fond of a beer, the five quickly find their own beach pad to stay in, right next to a house full of six ‘creatives’ who are also young Australian soap opera stars. It is here that author Sophie Hamley excels in what can only be described as taking the mickey out of the uptight, posh pommies.
The five are introduced to the beach, cafe and party scene, whilst exposing their lily-white bodies to the harsh Australian sun. Hamley expertly weaves the intricacies of Australian culture into the story, most of which leave the five completely confused by the language barrier.
Supposedly here to find jobs, the five are still keen to absorb the Aussie lifestyle, some of which is largely incomprehensible to them. The Australian vernacular seems to stymie them at every turn in this adventure down under. Pompous Julian has put on weight as he has approached adulthood, and Sophie Hamley seems to have the most pleasure in exposing his middle-class ideals.
With hangovers, sunburn, blue bottle stings, sheep shearing, redback spiders and snakes all being part of the story, the book is an extremely engaging read. Tomboy George is still large as life, and Anne, though quieter than the others, is still within character. Dick is still a bit of a bumbler and the dog Timmy gets into quite a few scrapes, one involving a night of romance with a blue heeler.
I smiled all the way through this short book. The re-invented ‘five’ challenged all of my childhood memories in a way that books seldom do. Having a childhood acquaintance with the characters enhanced my appreciation of them in their adult eccentricities.
What is so wonderful is that this book is funny. It is irreverent and it is very witty whilst being totally ‘tongue in cheek’. Sophie Hamley pokes fun at our Aussie culture and lifestyle, whilst celebrating our unique sense of humour and use of the English language.
Five Go Down Under would be an excellent gift for somebody of the Enid Blyton era, or even for younger people. I have a feeling my teenage granddaughter will totally enjoy reading this.
The small hardcover book is enhanced by vintage illustrations of the five, and somehow the author makes them fit the story. I felt nostalgic reading it, but thoroughly enjoyed the ‘grown up’ version in this great little book.
Others in the series are; Five go gluten free, Five give up their booze, Five on Brexit Island, Five get beach body ready, Five get on the property ladder, Five loose Dad in the garden centre and Five go parenting. Already I am planning on discovering more of these quirky little books.