Monday, March 15

Absolute Zero - Helen Cresswell

The Bagthorpes are back, in full competition mode - when Uncle Parker wins a Carribean family holiday by creating a fairly average advertising jingle it spurs the rest of the family into a frenzy of competition entering. The most avid, yet secretive, is Henry, who thinks being seen to enter competitions would reduce his patriarchal standing but who cannot bear that his brother-in-law won a prize using words - he, after all, is a BBC scriptwriter, and if anyone should win a wordsmithing prize it should be he.
Within days the Bagthorpe home is filled with magazines, specialty products and, to Mrs Fosdyke's great distress, label-less tins, in scenes that reminded me of the little I've read on serious competition entering. The already chaotic situation is helped not at all by the presence of Daisy, a strong-willed and very special child who has apparently outgrown her pyromaniachal phase.
Absolute Zero is genuinely funny, thanks to both the situations (some of the food creations Mrs Fosdyke manages, thanks to the unlabelled cans, are quite distressing - oxtail trifle, anyone?) and Cresswell's meticulous characterisations. Each family member is so utterly themselves that it's almost impossible to see any other possible outcome, which extends all the way to the stunning, televised finale. - Alex

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