Frank Cottrell Boyce has taken Ian Fleming’s magnificent, iconic flying car and given it a 21st-century makeover with a 21st-century family. A spirit of adventure and optimism drives the whole story forward, from the father for whom every adversity is a cause of celebration for the opportunity it brings, down to little Harry who’s excited by everything he sees.
The Tooting family restore a classic camper van with a view to travelling abroad, only to discover that it has wings and a mind of its own. As they visit one place after another, they find pieces of the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They take it to Paris, enthralling the romantic French and finding the original headlights. They land near Cairo, feeding pancakes to the gourmet Egyptians and finding the original wheels. And the children go to Madagascar, finding the final part of the original car – its bodywork – while their parents are touring north Africa in an armoured Aston Martin. At the end, the entire car has been replaced, with the interesting but unspoken ontological question of whether it is in fact the same car.
Without its being in any way overdone, the sense of family is strong and central throughout this story. Jem might be a typical youngster, unimpressed by old-world entertainment, and Lucy might be a morbidly-obsessed teenage girl who spends all her time in her room, but both of them show talent, ingenuity and courage in their determination to keep things together. Nor are their parents ciphers; good-natured and bickering quietly over who’s going to drive and where to go next, the whole family’s a joy to see in action. There’s much witty and sometimes quite subtle humour. Enjoyable from beginning to end, this book takes a very slightly not-quite-ordinary family around the world in an extraordinary car with humour and grace.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of goodtoread.org.