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New Town

New Town, a direct sequel to The Bell Family, was first published in 1960. The US edition (also 1960) was entitled New Shoes. It is now out of print.


Story | Connections to Other Books | Background | Thoughts | Editions and Availability | Other Media

Story

Alex Bell, of The Bell Family, is offered a new parish on the edge of London, Crestal New Town. It had once been a village, but a large number of flats - the "new town" - have recently been built, and it is clear that the clergyman will have a lot of work to do.

For the first half of the book, the family is still at St Marks Vicarage, and this section is a combination of preparing for the move - Ginnie's scheme to ensure she can stay at her school, Mrs Gage deciding to come with them, the farewell party and concert - as well as everyday events, the most notable of which is Ginnie accidentally letting one of Angus' goldfish be eaten by a cat.

When the family arrive at Crestal New Town, they find it to be a disheartening environment - the village is alright, but the new town has been poorly planned, and there is no community spirit. When Ginnie tells the Bishop that they hate it, he explains that he wants them to help make it a place in which people are proud to live.

Connections to Other Books

New Town/New Shoes is a direct sequel to The Bell Family/Family Shoes.

Aside from this, New Town/New Shoes has no connections to the other "shoes" books.

However, the Bells do appear in the short story, "The Bells Keep Twelfth Night", which appears to be set between The Bell Family and New Town.

Background

The Bell Family had been a successful Children's Hour serial, broadcast every year from 1949 to 1953, before appearing in written form in 1954. In 1955 the program was revived in a new setting, and it was this that led to the publication of New Town.

Thoughts

(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

Nancy Huse (1994) describes New Town as an "outstanding" novel, in which the Bell family "transform the alienated, uprooted parishioners into a vibrant community with room for all classes, ages, and regional or ethnic identities" (1994:111).

However, this "transformation" takes up less than four of the eighteen chapters of the book, and much of the rest seems something of a rehash of The Bell Family. In the first book, Ginnie rashly commits the family to doing something, without consulting them first. In New Town, this happens again - not once, but twice!

Furthermore, New Town seems, occasionally, to undercut some of the events in The Bell Family. For example, in the final chapter of The Bell Family, Ginnie discovers that she has a talent for swimming and decides she is going to be a champion. This is described as "one of the most exciting things about the holiday in Hythe" (The Bell Family, 1954:247), and yet in New Town it is mentioned only occasionally, in passing.

Even more surprising is the change in Angus. Although the rest of the family believe that he will lose interest in dancing, the authorial implication in The Bell Family is that this will not be the case. Although he is totally unskilled, we do get the sense that he is speaking the truth when he says "I always knew I didn't want to sing, but I like the noise music makes. To-night the first moment the ballet music started my feet knew what they wanted to do" (The Bell Family, 1954: 102). This is stated even more clearly in the earlier version, published in Collins Magazine, where Angus' headmaster tells Alex that Angus is "a very musical boy, but [the headmaster] and the other masters had been thinking for some time that they were barking up the wrong tree in turning him into a choir boy. They had noticed that he was a good mover; it was quite possible that he ought to be a dancer" (Collins Magazine Annual, 1952:135). In spite of this, however, in New Town Angus has begun to lose interest: "If you want to know I wasn't liking dancing any more" (New Town, 1960:93) . This feels like a betrayal of what we were lead to believe in The Bell Family.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

New Town was first published by Collins in 1960, with illustrations by Shirley Hughes.

In 1976 it was reissued by White Lion Publishers.

US Editions

In the same year as its UK release (1960), New Town was released in the United States by Random House, as New Shoes.

In 1985 there was a Dell Bantam Books "Yearling" paperback edition.

As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text was in any way amended.

Out of Print

New Town/New Shoes is out of print. In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start in price at 15, with New Shoes being rather more readily available than New Town. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)

Other Media

New Town originated with the Children's Hour radio programme, The Bell Family.

 


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© 1960 Noel Streatfeild

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