Children's Laureate 2001-2003
Carnegie Medal 1989, 1992
Whitbread Award 1993, 1996
Guardian Fiction Award 1990
Cover illustration for the original edition
by Sue Clarke
The More the Merrier is a book for 8-12 year old children. Here Anne Fine gives parents and teachers an insight into why she wrote it:
By far the pleasantest Christmas I've had since the children were tiny was when both my own children and stepchildren flew off to my ex-hubby. They had a grand time at every funfair in California. And Richard and I put a one inch high plastic tree from a train set between us on the table, and had steak and chips.
Am I just a Bah Humbug? I'm known for peeling back the 'nice' surfaces of family life and showing what's underneath. Step by Wicked Step, about reconstituted families, can be painful to read. Adult responses to The Book of the Banshee (about having a teenager in the house) were more often than not, "It's too true to be funny!"
But The More the Merrier is pure comedy. The Mountfields are, at heart, a happy, functioning extended family. (Why else have they all been invited yet again?)
The dark side underneath this time is my own loathing of Christmas. I've come to think of it as a tyranny and a misery - especially for women. It's a ghastly demanding octopus whose tentacles spread further every year. Those hateful tinny festive songs are dinned in your ears from October. You're lucky if you're not sick of the sight of tinsel by early November. Once, you only had to find gifts for your own family. Suddenly all your friends and half your colleagues were in on the act. Now even their children are hovering.
It might be all right if everyone had limitless money, seventy eight hours in each day and endless tolerance for shopping. But most of us have lives. We have jobs. We take courses. We're busy anyhow.
Who needs this? Most Christmas spenders already have everything they need. Many have everything they want. (Why else that relentless birdcall, "I can't think of ANYTHING to get him!"?) Recipients are fussy too. You can stand for ten minutes choosing between the pink and the blue, but that child will still sidle up beside you on Boxing Day morning. "Was it in any other colours, Mum? Have you still got the receipt?"
God, how I hate shopping! Wordsworth was right: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." As in the Mountfield household, most of the rest of the organisation and the work falls to the woman as well (if she lets it). Try simplifying and the squawking starts. "Oh, Mum! We've got to have sausages too!" "Oh, Mum! You can't not hang the cards!" "Oh, Mum!"
No wonder everyone stuffs their faces and gets drunk. And I can't stand drunks. And I hate forced fun. I doubt there are any more dispiriting words on the entire planet than, "Oh, come on! After all, it is Christmas!"
Do I have nothing good to say about it all? Well, yes. I like carols. The trouble is that the carol singers who visit me haven't taken the time to learn either the words or the tunes. And if you go to a carol concert, it's hard to enjoy it for all the things spinning round your brain.
"Hark! The Herald- "
(Oh! Mustn't forget to -)
"Once in Royal Dav-"
(Blast! Still need to order the -)
Forget it. Forget the whole thing, in fact. Curl up with a book instead. Preferably this one.