Review: Playing With the Grown-Ups by Sophie Dahl

Playing With the Grown-Ups is a highly entertaining coming-of-age story about a girl from a very well, unusual family. Kitty is the illegitimate daughter of a teenage mother and a much older (and married) man, whose role in her life is to supply the occasional bit of money. She lives with her mother, nanny and her younger brother and sister in a small cottage at the back of the house where her eccentric grandparents and two young aunts live. Family life is chaotic--her grandfather, or Bestepapa is something of an eccentric her mother, Marina, is an artist who suffers bouts of depression and Kitty's aunts both make a fuss of her. That life soon comes crashing down, however, when Marina meets a guru, who soon wields a bit too much influence on her and convinces Marina to move to the United States. From then on, Kitty is flung between boarding schools, countries and each has a more detrimental effect on her than the last, until Kitty eventually comes to realise that Marina isn't perhaps the best person to take care of her. 

With duel timelines, one with an adult Kitty returning to England to visit her mother who is in hospital and the other with Kitty as a teenager, Dahl weaves together an interesting portrait of an eclectic childhood and the effect that Marina's leaving the loving family home had on Kitty. Marina isn't a great influence--in fact she can barely take care of herself. The reader watches, horrified as Kitty begins to grow up too soon, and falls prey to various bad people, especially men,  though the mature Kitty offers the reader hope that things will turn out all right in the end. The story doesn't get too bogged down in darkness, though there are some sad moments. The best parts, I felt, were the scenes featuring Kitty's grandparents. Although this is a work of fiction, I couldn't help but notice a few similarities between Bestepapa and Roald Dahl, who is, of course, Sophie Dahl's maternal grandfather.

Playing With the Grown-Ups is an entertaining read, told with a whole lot of heart.



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