Diana Wynne Jones at her finest — family feuds and chaos, magic with hilarious results and some of the most original ideas ever to appear between the covers of a book. Casper, Johnny and Gwinny get a big shock when their mother marries the Ogre. The Ogre is large and stern and not at all interested in children, although this doesn’t prevent him from adding his own two awful sons, Douglas and Malcolm, to the family mix. Now the five children and two adults are squashed under the same roof, which can lead to only one thing — war! Then the Ogre brings home the Chemistry Sets — one for Malcolm and one for Johnny. Not that Johnny is impressed by this very obvious bribe. At least, not until they accidentally discover the flying lotion. Then the real fun begins!
I’ve only read The Ogre Downstairs one time, and I need to read it again because apparently the newer editions have updated things since its first printing. For example: instead of ruining tapes, the children apparently ruined vinyls. I don’t remember tapes or vinyls and am now consumed with curiosity. I DO remember something about a disco, which seems like a weird thing to have left un-updated, if you’re updating everything else.
Anyway, according to the Wikipedia page, there’s a very funny secret meaning re:the Hells Angels and their “classical Greek” in the last chapter. I don’t speak any kind of Greek and am feeling somewhat left out; what is it that they said? Anyone know?
She was always putting in little things like that, DWJ. I definitely need some annotated versions of her books, or some kind of encyclopedia of all the interesting things she wove into her stories. Though, of course, half the fun is catching them during subsequent rereadings!
Here’s what I said about The Ogre Downstairs when I reviewed it last year:
Best thing: everyone learning (slowly) how to be a family, mostly through the accidental application of empathy.
Worst thing: mean parent being excused (kind of) for being mean by the revelation that his sense of humor isn’t aligned with anyone else’s. I don’t agree with the assessment, but whatever, it’s not my book.
I’ve always liked how DWJ blends real-life drama with the fantastic, and I particularly like it in The Ogre Downstairs. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s a little bit scary at times, and I think it’s definitely worth reading if you’re a DWJ fan.
And before you go, here’s a lovely interview with DWJ where she mentions The Ogre Downstairs. Apparently, her husband thought he was the Ogre!