Guardian Review - "a book too heavy for its weightless hero"

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Guardian Review

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne, reviewed by Mal Peet


This is a rather frustrating book. It's unashamedly and often delightfully whimsical. It's lovely to look at (with jacket and illustrations by Oliver Jeffers), features a family dog called Captain WE Johns, is full of sly jokes (some too sly for children of 10 or thereabouts) and one gleeful thudder of a bad joke on page 247. Its language is frequently challenging, which is no bad thing. It has much of the pell-mell what-the-hell-happens-nextness of Dahl and Ibbotson.

There's a pleasing inversion of the unrelenting theme when we discover the reason for Mr and Mrs Brocket's lust for normalcy: as children, they had been forcibly groomed for stardom.

Yet, when reading a book, do you not sometimes wish you had been its editor? Had you been, in this case, you might have redacted solecisms such as the presence of foxes in Zambia or a marble sign "pinned" to a wall. More usefully, you might have cut at least 50 pages. There are a taxing number of them in this novel, which is episodic rather than plotted. Two or three fewer episodes would have given it more pace and punch without detracting from the narrative or its appeal for tolerance. It's a book just too heavy for its weightless hero, too ponderous for its uplifting message.

Nervousness on the part of an editor when confronted by the latest text from a bestselling author is understandable. I can imagine that whoever was given the job of editing Boyne, whose previous children's book was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, might have felt a touch pusillanimous. I wish she or he hadn't, though; a little lighter, this book would soar.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on August 4, 2012 10:25 AM.

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