Heaven and hell

19th September 1997 at 01:00
ANGELA AND DIABOLA. By Lynne Reid Banks. Collins Pounds 9.99

Are "bad" children born or made? Anne Fine's last novel for older readers, The Tulip Touch, asked the same question in the wake of James Bulger's murder by two 10-year-olds. The lost youngsters and inept adults of Fine's book can be picked out in Angela and Diabola, a tale of a pair of twins born with polar-opposite personalities, but Lynne Reid Banks has stripped the storyline of realism and shed subtlety along the way.

She deals in types: besides the twins, there's their nice-but-dim parents the Cuthbertson-Joneses, the kind teacher Ms Applebough, the nasty social worker Mrs Bashforth and the drippy vicar Benedict. In a story which warns against casting children as angels or devils, gentler handling of the supporting cliches is in order.

Although the language and the pace are right for upper-primary readers, the hollow humour of chapters about the perils of rearing toddlers from heaven and hell is more likely to tickle parents. The accelerating may-hem as Mr Cuthbertson-Jones deserts the sinking ship of family dynamics, the house burns down and twins and mother are exiled to a sink estate is mildly enter-taining but falls short of the comparison with Roald Dahl made by the publisher.

More mature readers will spot where the desperate parents are going wrong and will appreciate the finer points of the mutually manipulative relationship between the "good" and "bad" twins. While the book's handling of these rings true, the resolution - and much that goes before - does not.

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