© Sylvia Waugh, illustration © Richard Ross.
This is a book that I picked up and bought at a used bookstore on the basis of the back cover and inside front flap description of the contents, plus perhaps the interesting cover art. What I thought I was getting was a book about an eccentric family with a big secret they must keep hidden from the world. And it is that, but not the kind of secret I’d expected. As the inside flap says, “A normal family, you might think—but you would be wrong. Number 5 is home to a stunning deception that must at all costs be kept from the hostile world outside.” And whoever wrote that deserves an award; it was enough to get my wallet out!
Now, I’m going to reveal what that deception is, because I felt a bit cheated by it, so if you think you might like to find and read this book yourself, perhaps you should read no further. Turns out that all the members of this large family of all ages, from bedridden Grandfather to newborn infant are human-size dolls somehow come to life, they know not how, nor is it ever explained. They were made by the woman whose house they live in, perhaps as companions for her lonely life, but we never really find out. The life the Mennyms lead is a precarious one. Some of them can never leave the house, they’re too obviously not people. Others can manage it in the right circumstances, with the father taking odd jobs like that of a night watchman, and one daughter smart and human enough to know how to get by with large hats and sunglasses, gloves and misdirection.
Despite my initial disappointment, as reading about dolls is very far down on my list, in fact completely off it, I have to admit this book did keep my interest. The characters are quirky and eccentric, and the way they have learned to adapt to their odd life, their interactions with each other and the outside world, are pretty compelling. And when a letter arrives to tell them that the new owner of their rented house, who has never been there or met them, is coming to visit from far Australia, the family is really thrown into a panic. But that’s only one of many interesting plotlines, another is the unfinished doll suddenly uncovered in the attic, and the possibility that it, too, might be alive.
The Mennyms are as creepy as the Addams Family in their own quiet way, and yet Waugh’s writing makes them seem quite human in some ways, too. Quite a juggling act for this first-time author. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this book because I’m not quite sure what to make of it myself, but if this review piques your interest, give it a try. I’m even thinking of getting the next book in the series…