MONTMORENCY LAUNCH May 8th 2003
Montmorency by Eleanor Updale (Scholastic) challenges the notion that a children's book, ipsp facto, has to contain a child character. This is a relatively modern assumption. Think Biggles. Think John Buchan and Conan Doyle. Indeed, Updale has written this book in the spirit of these late-Victorian authors, who assumed a broad readership, from older children to adult. Her book has a narrative tone utterly unfamiliar to the world of contemporary children's literature, and is all the more likeable for that. Personally, I think the Buchanesque espionage of the final third of the novel should have been saved for book #2, but this is being picky about a story that is a tightly and immaculately written, effortless read. It is the wholesomely amoral tale of a character reinventing himself and leading a double life - on the one hand as Montmorency, high-society man-about-town, staying at an upmarket hotel (Cissie, the hotel manager's daughter is one of the great grotesques of recent children's books), and on the other as Scarper, a low-life robber using the London sewer system as his getaway route. The book is a little vague about the actual breaking & entering of property, but we take that as read, because Montmorency/Scarper is already, at the start of this first book, a criminal who, while in prison, has been experimented upon and permanently scarred by a leading surgeon, Dr Fawcett. Updale created Montmorency while telling her own children bedtime stories. "Easier than reading abook. You can do it with the light off," she says. Apparently, talk of this and future books being filmed is sufficiently advanced for the family (Updale is married to broadcaster James Naughtie) to play games considering who might play the lead role. Updale rather favours Jude Law. Naughtie's media connections have given the book certain advantages over other first novels - dustjacket blurbs from Joan Bakewell and Jon Snow; a launch party appearacne by Rory Bremner. The party speech, delivered by Richard Scrivener, was one of the best launch speeches ACHUKA has witnessed. Later, an anxious PA asked how the Frank SInatra references had gone down. Perhaps we'd been too busy getting camera-shots to notice, or Scrivener had edited these particular witticisms out at the last minute.