Yes, that Archer’s Goon.
I really do not understand how I missed Diana Wynne Jones as a child. It’s not like I was too old for her stuff when it was coming out. It’s not like there weren’t libraries in my town. There were even bookshops! … but there it is. I didn’t read my first Jones until a couple of years ago – a Chrestomanci – and I’ve been hearing about Archer’s Goon for ages. And now I’ve finally read it.
Yes, it is magnificent. Yes, I loved it. Yes, I will be foisting it onto every young person when I think they’re not quite ready for it.
If, like me, you haven’t read it – well, just do so. It’s about a family whose house gets gently invaded by a very large man with a very small head who insists that Dad has to write 2000 words, Or Else. And things go on from there with discovering that the town really does not run the way they thought it did. Which naturally leads to Adventures. And those adventures were genuinely absorbing and often unexpected and always wonderfully written.
So what did I really like?
Firstly, the family situation. The adventures centre on the son, Howard, but Mum and Dad are absolutely present and important and relevant. I love the family dynamics, actually; that Mum and Dad are so different, Dad is so magnificently obstinate and Mum is wonderfully competent; that they have a raging row which does not result in them considering divorce; that they complement one another and generally work together. And then there’s Awful. Seriously a family who nickname their daughter Awful and still go out of their way to make sure she’s ok – this family is so REAL. I love them.
I love the Goon. When people were talking about the book I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the title meant. Clearly goon can mean henchman, but it didn’t seem to fit here; then there’s the Aussie slang term for cheap wine, and that really didn’t seem to fit… so I was lost. Discovering that actually it did mean henchman was a surprise, but made sense once I realised that Archer was of course a person. Anyway, I liked the Goon a lot. Especially his dialogue.
And I liked the plot. I loved that Jones did not explain absolutely everything about Archer’s family and their place in the town; you just need to accept that this is what Howard and his family know, so of course it’s what the reader knows. We regularly deal with events that we don’t have complete context for, so why must it be different in a novel? Going around visiting the different members of the family to investigate what’s going on is of course a familiar trope; it reminded me of Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series (which of course is a series, not a stand-alone, something else which is a bit different in Jones), amongst others. There’s nothing wrong with using this trope, of course – it’s used so often because it does let the author show you stuff about the world and reveal the plot in bits and pieces. And Jones does it so well.
Finally, in looking around for a picture of the cover, I discovered that it was a TV show – which I vaguely remember someone talking about at some stage. Is it wrong that I immediately got the Round the Twist theme song in my head? (Roger Lloyd Pack as Dad is SHEER BRILLIANCE.)