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The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall

The Roundabout Man (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Clare Morrall

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366313,489 (3.96)1
Title:The Roundabout Man
Authors:Clare Morrall
Info:Sceptre (2012), Paperback, 324 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:immortalized childhood, annoying siblings, orphans, mother (dreadful), gas station, making due, Christopher Robin on the lam

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The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall (2012)



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This isn’t a book with much suspense in it but it did hold my interest, partly because of the way Morrall builds Quinn’s character, partly because of Morrall’s once again effective style and partly because of resonance in the themes such as the total undesirability of losing one’s faculties in ageing, an issue that arises as soon as the second page.

Ironically, since it is a reporter writing about Quinn that brings about the severe assault on him, Morrall perhaps got quite a few of her ideas from the newspaper herself. The building of a house and then disguising it behind hay bales in order to circumvent planning regulations seems very close to the actual case in England that was occurring around the time she was writing this novel. I guess if it hadn’t been so fully covered in the press subsequently, I wouldn’t have heard of it but, with it prominently n my mind, I couldn’t help feeling a bit let down by this sequence, insignificant as it was to the book as a whole. I think it’s just that Morrall likes the quirky and saw the opportunity here.

It was interesting to have Quinn’s thoughts so exposed yet not someone the reader understands for a lot of the book. After his kind treatment of others, I was surprised to find his own lack of confidence and his insecurity. I think Morrall draws he reader closer to him but having him revise his first, dismissive assessment of Amanda and I found myself interested in their subsequent, gradual exchange of information, one of Morrall’s ways of revealing Quinn’s past.

This is a gentle book, its tone coming from the author’s creation of Quinn and the support he gets from those at the service station. I particularly liked Morrall’s description of these ubiquitous places: ‘concrete buildings [that] huddle together like an apologetic cluster of bricks dumped at the edge of a building site. The cars that line themselves up in neat rows are there only to draw a breath, never intending to take longer than a brief pause on their way to somewhere else’. I think this personification of the buildings and cars somehow helps to convey the bleakness.

Perhaps less successful was the characterisation of two major characters: Larissa, Quinn’s mother and Amanda, the manageress of the service station. Both were extremes – the mother of total neglect of her children and Amanda of being just too warm-hearted and tolerant in the end even though I enjoyed scenes with her in them.

This is a rather sentimental exploration of relationships but I think it works. ( )
  evening | Apr 23, 2016 |
As usual, Clare Morrall features a socially isolated person as the main character who is at the borderline of 'normality'. Of course, I read and enjoy her books because I identify with such people, but I reckon there are a lot others who find a similar connection, at least in some aspects. For example, many people probably feel estranged from their siblings or their parents and find themselves a little confused by that feeling of estrangement. I reckon Morrall excels in the way she narrates the one-to-one interactions between individuals. There's not just dialog, but also what is going on in one person's head - and what they think is going on in the other person's head.
I suppose the weaknesses of her work are the unlikely twists and turns in the plot, and the unreality of the basic story (and maybe the predictability of the story....but life is predictable, isn't it?), but for me that doesn't get in the way too much. There's plenty of reality there to keep me satisfied.Keep going Clare! Don't let that lymphoma get the better of you. ( )
  oldblack | Aug 12, 2014 |
Another great novel from Clare Morrall who is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. In this one we meet Quinn, aged 60 and living in a caravan concealed on a traffic island. He survives by foraging for food in the bins at a nearby motorway service station and doesn’t consider himself a tramp.

It isn’t really a story about rough living, more about the past that Quinn is seeking to escape from. It turns out that his mother was a very successful children’s novelist who fictionalised the lives of her four children, which made them rich but had detrimental effects on their lives in other ways. A bit like the real Christopher Robin I suppose – I read somewhere that he was less than impressed with the way his childhood had become public property – so I guess the author is on firm ground here.

The way the phenomenon of the fictional books is delivered is particularly impressive – the reader gets a real sense of them, with their irresistible mix of whimsy and adventure set within the bubble of an idyllic 1950s childhood. I thought initially they were supposed to be a thinly veiled “Famous Five” series – the characters even consume “lashings of ginger beer”, but towards the end Enid Blyton herself is referenced, as though to make it clear that they are not. With film adaptations and computer games and obsessive fans across the world, it is clear to the reader what a massive burden Quinn and his sisters have had to bear.

Whilst a thoroughly engaging read, I found some apects of the novel disappointing. The action, with one or two exceptions, is very low key and it doesn’t really build to any kind of crescendo. The explanation offered for Quinn’s mother’s indifference towards him, and boys in particular, felt weak. And some of the goings-on at the service station, whilst interesting in a way (I haven’t read many books centred around service stations and the attempt to give this one a personality and a heart was admirable) weren’t always believable. Would the assistant really have left her two kids in the care of a homeless guy all day?

Looking back, what I liked most about this novel was the thing I have liked about all her others – the way she zeroes in on people in society who are different in some way, and examines the challenges they face in a compelling and readable way. ( )
  jayne_charles | Jan 3, 2014 |
Clare Morrall has not let me down yet. I've read four of her five published books (so far) and they've all been excellent reads.

Quinn Smith is the character in a series of books from the 1950s, along with his triplet sisters. But Quinn Smith is also a real person, on whom the character was based. And after years of having to live up to people's expectations of what he should be like he rebels and goes to live on a roundabout in a caravan.

When he's attacked and his caravan is vandalised he finds himself back in society and having to learn to deal with people and his issues again.

This is a lovely read. It flits around a lot between the distant past, the more recent past and the present, but it's quite easy to follow and I was never confused as to which time I was reading about. I also found the whole family dynamic in the book really interesting. I would guess that Quinn's mother is based on one or two well-known children's writers from the era, writers who dazzled and enchanted children with their stories but couldn't quite deal with their own children and give them a happy childhood.

Really enjoyed this one and look forward to more from this author. ( )
  nicx27 | Jan 11, 2013 |
Family are not always all you want them to be. Quinn Smith grows up with the same name as a character in his mother’s books, a funny little boy with a perfect life, an inspiration to thousands. But Quinn’s reality is far from the happy family life portrayed in the stories. His mother is a cold, remote, dislikeable woman who never wanted the child she writes of so lovingly in her stories. His sisters, the precociously capable triplets of the books, are, in reality, unhappy, self-obsessed bullies. Then there are the succession of foster children, who are never considered good enough to be integrated into the 'perfect' Smith family. The reality of the idealised, media-darling, happy-family tales of 'The Triplets and Quinn' is that of a dysfunctional, neglected, love-starved family with bonds so fragile that they simply disintegrate as the children grow old enough to rebel and the family falls apart.

Now in his fifties, Quinn has finally found the courage to make his escape, living in a caravan on a roundabout beside a motorway service station. It’s a world away from the privileged cold comfort of The Cedars, the family home immortalised by his writer-mother, but Quinn loves his lonely life, believing he's hidden far enough away to have escaped his family forever. Then a terrible, chance event throws him on the mercy of strangers, and he is forced into the realisation that families don’t have to be linked by blood.

Clearly inspired by the memories of Enid Blyton’s unhappy children, The Roundabout Man is a warm, delightful and very enjoyable read - and one that makes you think. Quinn is such an engaging character, his worlds – the current reality of his caravan life, the past life as the immortalised child of a famous writer, and the imaginary world of his mother’s books, where everyone is happy, the sun always shines, where there’s always another adventure to be had with a slap-up picnic at the end – are all beautifully evocative and detailed.

There were very few things that didn’t work for me, but one was the mysterious benefactor. So much was made of the unexpected gifts, I was expecting something more than we finally got - not a major shock-horror-I-wasn’t-expecting-THAT! Revelation, that would have been wrong, but I would have liked something a little more interesting, more satisfying, than the afterthought we got.

Then there was the ending. On first reading, the ending was unexpectedly melancholy and downbeat. I was a little upset. I wanted… something else, I’m not sure what, exactly, just something. But then I thought about it, couldn’t stop thinking about it - this book will take a while to leave my thoughts - and realised it was the only possible ending. Quinn had to leave the fantasy of his happy home and perfect childhood behind so he could finally move on. He has a new family now, the friends who were there for him when his blood-relations were not. He has a new life, a home he loves, finally, he’s free.

A beautiful, thoughtful, and very readable book; highly recommended to anyone who enjoys gentle pathos touched with kindness and humanity. ( )
  MayaP | Jun 16, 2012 |
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Who is the Roundabout Man? He calls himself Quinn, the name of a boy in a world-famous series of children's books. What he hopes no one will discover is that he's the real Quinn, immortalised as a child by his mother in her entrancing tales about a little boy's adventures with his triplet sisters.… (more)

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