I discovered Philip Ardagh in a nondescript bookshop in a traditional part of town known for its temples not books. I couldn’t get enough of his writing. His Eddie Dickens and Unlikely Exploits series have kept me chuckling with delight. His Quixotic characters from the heart of Victorian and Edwardian England face extreme distress in the most entertaining manner. Everything turns out well in the end, which is the point of a children’s book.
The Scandalous life of the Lawless Sisters is a departure from his other books both fictional and nonfictional. But the trademark Ardaghesque (if I may volunteer an adjective here) humour is intact and thriving. It’s a departure in the sense that the story has been created in the pure spirit of whimsy with illustrations taken from issues of Punch from 1880. The humour comes from the incongruity between the text and the image. For example in the first page, a harmless image of a mother and child in the library is accompanied by the following lines:
The Lawless sisters had a tough start to life. Their mother would often leave them stranded upon the drawing room mantelpiece whilst she took recreational drugs in the library.
It’s the start of a story that had me laughing uncontrollably. A seemingly unrelated illustration has been made the basis for the start of the story in a completely tongue-in-cheek manner.
Dark humour thoroughly permeates the book. It’s not a book for children but has enough recklessness that appeals to the child in you. I finished the book in one sitting and enjoyed the anarchism that the book embodies wholeheartedly. In that sense, it is quite Dionysian. Read it for some laughter and to perceive the same things in a completely new way.