The Midnight Gang by David Walliams and Tony Ross

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The Midnight Gang by David Walliams and Tony Ross

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Timeless, witty and most importantly as warm as you could wish, this book is good enough to confound the few remaining nay-sayers, and deserves its success.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780008164614

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Meet Tom. The experience is easier and more pleasant after a few pages of this book, for it begins without him remembering his own name. But eventually he pieces his day and his life together – he is a student at a stereotypically bad posh boarding school, with his new-money parents working abroad (somewhere with a desert). He was struck on the head by a cricket ball, and has now been admitted to a hospital for a few days – and nights. With four very diverse residents already in the children's ward, added to the horrid matron, the inept young doctor and the incredibly ugly and evil-looking porter, he settles down, finding it not quite the holiday from school he expects, but worthwhile all the same. He also finds that some of the other kids have a Midnight Gang. What and where is this, can Tom go – and what might he get out of it – immediately become the salient points of this latest huge-seller by David Walliams.

What struck me most about this book was not perhaps the plot, or the warmth of the proceedings (more of which in a minute) but the oh-so-gentle and –subtle use of the gothic. For one thing, the time this book is set in is never really detailed. Yes, we have automatic lifts in the hospital, and ceiling lighting as the audience would experience it, but there are no mobile phone addicts, and bed-pans for every ward inmate. If anything the narrative style is finely poised between the classic and modern, too – we get simple chapter structures, and a habit of using very short paragraphs suited to the under-twelves, but beyond a few odd fonts and funny bits of presentation we get a straightforward narrative, interrupted only now and again by extended lists. These seem to be there more or less for Walliams to dump on us the pooey, snotty and farty bits you'd like as not expect.

The only weird thing style-wise was the over-use of the word lady to describe the attractive but purely evil Matron – surely a throwback from Walliams' time on TV. She was one of several characters that did seem to me to be written with one eye on who would perform them on TV, but the principals will be the children. One of those had the handicap of an obviously predictable story arc, as well as showing Tom up as something quite stupid, but I welcomed the warmth that that would evidently provide – as well as the very nature of the Midnight Gang. Without giving anything away it's a quietly heart-warming thing, which (unlike some here) was unexpected, and which probably was the major thing here that made me finally put my hands up, end my sniffiness, and say that yes, David Walliams does know how to write a properly good novel for children. Sure, he does include snot here and there, and kids in inappropriate clothing for comedy effect, but he has a great sentiment whose presentation is thoughtfully controlled. He has a universal clarity that could not come easily, a breezy style that sustains its comedy and makes the pages fly by, and a warmth that left 'warm' behind a long time ago, in the direction of 'red hot'. After using his short stories as a backdoor into his output, I find his main novels on this evidence to be perfectly adept, and most assuredly commendable.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

You should jump on board with The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig and Chris Mould, as it's a similar title, equally almost good enough to attain family heirloom status.

Buy The Midnight Gang by David Walliams and Tony Ross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Midnight Gang by David Walliams and Tony Ross at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Midnight Gang by David Walliams and Tony Ross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Midnight Gang by David Walliams and Tony Ross at Amazon.com.

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