It’s not very often that I like the sequel better than the original, but I have to say that enjoyed The Exiles in Love so much more than I did The Exiles. I didn’t need the tissue at the end, like the blurb from Horn Book said I would, but I did laugh, quite a bit (and manage to pick up on the satire this time!), at the escapades of the Conroy sisters.
The girls — most of them, anyway — are in love. Ruth is in love with no less than four men/boys: the bus driver, the Temporary English teacher, Alan Adair (the butcher’s son), and Philippe, the grandson of Big Grandma’s French friend who comes to say with the Conroys for a few weeks. Naomi and Rachel, in comparison, are only in love with one each: the Temporary English teacher for Naomi, and Phillipe for Rachel. (Though Rachel is very level-headed about it all, asking Philippe to marry her the second he walks into the house.) Phoebe, on the other hand, is mildly disgusted by this business with the “family failing” (aka, falling in love), preferring to devote herself to John le Carre, and becoming an international spy. To cure the girls of their failing, Big Grandma proposes an escapade to France, staying in a cottage on the property of her friend, and the girls manage to have a few adventures, as well as manage to fall out of love. All is well, of course, in the end.
I loved the trip to France. Having spent a summer in Germany, without knowing German, I completely empathized with the girl’s frustrations and insecurities about being in France. The part where they went shopping in the villa had me in tears, I was laughing so hard. And I thought they were all very cute and sweet and silly about falling in love… Ruth especially was good at pining. And I did catch this time around that McKay was satirizing parents who expect perfection from their kids. Mrs. Conroy is always moaning that her girls aren’t normal little girls, that they read too much, and aren’t normal enough, and get much too dirty for their own good. And when Rachel goes up for May Queen at her school, finally, Mrs. Conroy thinks, she’s acting like a “normal little girl”. Puh-lease. (Maybe I just needed the satire spelled out more blatantly; it was there in the first book, but I just found it annoying there. Here, I was amused by it.)
The book was told in flashbacks by Naomi and Ruth, each chapter beginning with a little conversation between the two of them. At first, I found that annoying, but eventually, it grew on me. And I have to admit, I did like the ending.
But the absolute best thing, the only thing I really marked because I liked it so much, was this quote, when they’re in France:
“And speaking of food,” said Big Grandma, “we’d better make a list. You girls will have to go shopping after breakfast.”
“Aren’t you coming?”
“With my ankle?” [she twisted it at the beginning of their vacation, and spent the week lounging in the orchards]
“What will you do then?”
“I shall sit quietly in the orchard with A Tale of Two Cities. I always enjoy books much more when I read them on location.”