Monday 11 July 2011

BESIDE THE SEASIDE: OPERATION EIFFEL TOWER by Elen Caldecott. Review by Penny Dolan

I once went to a weekend wedding where the bride, groom and a few of the guests played Crazy Golf on the Hastings seafront. Not surprisingly, that setting popped into my head as I read the opening to Operation Eiffel Tower.

Gentle teenage Jack works at a William’s World of Wonders Golf Tour on the seafront, a crumbling novelty golf-course studded with battered examples of famous architecture.

The story opens as Jack hits his golf ball triumphantly into the final 18th hole, right between the feet of the Statue of Liberty.  Older sister Lauren sits nearby, engrossed in Teen Thing magazine, while little sister Ruby wants Jack to help her have a go too.

For a short while, Operation Eiffel Tower seems a likeable, lightly amusing tale of a family with little money to spare. The three siblings go on to the laundrette where Mum works to find baby Billy asleep in his pushchair and Mum already saying goodbye to Aunty Joyce. 

Suddenly, the slightly uneasy feeling is confirmed by the almost throwaway line. 
“Her shift was officially over. She smiled and waved at Jack and Ruby. Now they could all go home. Jack felt his heart sink.”
There are many quiet, well written moments like this that help you feel the quiet emotional punches that Jack sustains. Because, although the book cover suggests a sunny sea-and-sand image and Elen Caldecott’s writing seems  as light as everyday speech, Operation Eiffel Tower quickly turns into a believable pattern of family tension as the parents marriage smashes down affecting all the children, even Paul, Jack’s older brother, already away as a new army recruit.

Jack urges Lauren into deciding to save the relationship. They will get enough money to send their parents on a romantic weekend in Paris. They want Mum and Dad to remember all the reasons why they fell in love in the first place. They want their parents to stay together and their home to be happy again.

Their desperate money-raising schemes, though amusing, don’t go well. Ruby learns she can’t sell new baby Billy, Lauren and Jack can’t be living statues on the prom and all sorts of go awry.

Even when Jack wins the Crazy Golf Championship cash prize swelling the secret Paris fund by £50.00, it happens on the day when Dad moves out to a grotty B&B  which their Mum forbids them to visit.

Caldecott captures the small painful incidents of such breakdowns, scuh as Lauren almost cruelly puts the phone down before Jack can speak to his father, the awkwardness Jack feels when he visits his Dad not at home, Lauren’s drift into anger and waywardness and the confusion of everyone involved.

Despite moments of fun and humour, the story darkens as the parents become absorbed in their battles. Nevertheless, Jack’s hopefulness, bravery and determination to succeed kept me reading. Eventually, despite a change of plan, the book arrives at the best ending possible.

Operation Eiffel Tower borrows a Bookseller quote for the cover strapline, saying it is “perfect for Jacqueline Wilson fans”.  True, but I feel it should also say “A fresh, wise and original voice”. 

And I’ll now make time to read Elen Caldecott’s two earlier books – How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant and How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini -  too.

Penny Dolan

Operation Eiffel Tower by Elen Caldecott. Bloomsbury 2011. ISBN 9781408805732   £5.99.

Thanks for reading my first two reviews. There'll be anothe one along in a couuple of days, when the whole Awfully Big Review Team start posting up their thoughts and recommendations.



collin mathew said...

i reaaly like this book and im nearly at the end of reading it

its a bit boring at some points but most of the book is amazing

my favorite charecter is lauren

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