If you like Blyton: The Harveys See it Through by Phyllis Gegan

You might remember the name Phyllis Gegan from my review of A Mystery for Ninepence recently.

I bought this one partly because I like the Collin’s Seagull Library spines and partly because I like collecting books by authors I already have (even if I haven’t read them yet!). Anyway, it’s the second of the only two books she was known to have written, and it’s a different genre.

If a Mystery for Ninepence is like a Blyton mystery, then The Harveys See it Through is like…

As I said above, The Harveys is of a different genre to Gegan’s other book. It is far more like one of Blyton’s ‘family’ books – The Family at Red Roofs, House-at-the-Corner, or even The Four Cousins in a way.

It is not as deep as either of the first two I have mentioned. The Harveys do help someone out and manage their own home in the absence of their father, but as none of them have any deep character flaws to begin with, they don’t have to develop or learn any lessons along the way. Their situation is also not as serious as either of those books – nobody is presumed dead or gravely ill or anything like that.

The cast

The Harveys are

  • Miranda, 15
  • Julian, 13
  • Verna, 11
  • Giles, 9
  • Mr Harvey
  • Mamie (Giles’ spoiled cat)

There is also:

  • Miss Hodges the lodger
  • Mr Blake the neighbour whose garden meets the bottom of the Harvey garden
  • Nicky, 14, and Jo-Ann, 13, Weavers, friends of the children

The general plot

The story opens with the Mr Harvey telling his children that he is to go off to America on business for six weeks. He will leave them housekeeping money, an emergency five pound note, and a grown-up lodger as he doesn’t want them alone over-night. (Their mother died several years before and their daily woman is recovering with a broken leg).

While not overjoyed at the prospect the children take it well and resolve to be sensible about everything.

The main part of the story develops when they discover that Mr Blake has been in a car accident and ended up in hospital. They do not get on with Mr Blake as he unjustly accused Julian of causing the death of his dog. They can see that Mr Blake’s raspberries and currants are ripe, and know that he normally picks them and sells them.

So despite heartily disliking him, and being disliked back just as much, the children spend a lot of their summer holiday picking Mr Blake’s fruit and selling it by the roadside, intending to give him all the proceeds. They even turn a load of it into jam when it looks like it will rot before they can sell it.

When Mr Blake first returns home from the hospital he is incensed to see the Harveys have been in his garden and accuses them of stealing from him. However, when he receives the letter, account book and money from them, he is forced to apologise and a friendship is struck up between the neighbours.

The sub-plot regards the family managing without their father and daily woman. There is the shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry to consider. Things become much worse when a visiting puppy eats his way through several envelopes which had contained a weeks worth of housekeeping money each. They then have to live very frugally – even with using the emergency money – until Mr Blake produces a miracle from the shredded notes.

In between these plots are various bits of fun where the children have their friends over, redecorate their fathers’ room, attend a fair and so on.

What’s Blyton about it?

First up the adults are quickly disposed of, excepting the lodger who is happy to have little to do with managing the children. There are plenty of good meals and even more scrupulous honesty in dealing with Mr Blake’s fruit, down to the last penny spent on sugar for the jam.

As I’ve mentioned, children having to earn money and/or manage a household alone features in a few Blyton books.

Is it as good as Blyton?

No, of course not, but very few of Blyton’s contemporaries do match up in my opinion.

The story lacks a compelling reason for them to be putting such effort into selling the fruit. If Mr Blake had been a very dear friend, I could understand it. Or even if he had been a kindly stranger! However, doing good for the sake of doing good doesn’t work so well.

The children, while likeable and having sufficient personality to stand out from each other, very rarely get cross, fall out, get upset or react in any interesting way. They tease each other, and there is a small amount of upset once or twice but generally they trundle along cheerfully.

Final thoughts

It may sound dull when I describe it, but the story isn’t boring. The ways in which the children manage to pick and sell the fruit is interesting and is interspersed with other plots like their tree-top party and a treasure hunt in the public gardens.

Giles often provides light comic relief with his nonsense over his cat, and his mosaic cake is funny (if concerning on a hygiene level…). There are even a couple of occasions when the children comment on terrible grammar which was appreciated by me, though your mileage may vary!

If you can pick this one up cheaply in a charity shop or online it’s worth reading. And as a bonus it will look good on your bookshelf.

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