Friday 13 September 2013

The Mouse and His Child

I finished this rather odd book this week. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it, or my reaction to it. 

I do like the basic setup of the story. The mouse and his child are tin wind-up toys and are essentially searching for family and home, having been discarded by the family that bought them. They want to reunite with an elephant and seal who they shared time with in a toy shop and make a family. That's sweet, and the longing for family and home is a lovely background to many a good story. The Mouse and His Child is a bit of a quest story, with baddies along the way, and their arch nemesis, Manny Rat, is a pretty good villain. I liked the world of Manny's dump lair very much. 

I didn't particularly like or understand the increasingly bizarre characters they met along the way. While the Caws of Art is a very clever name (which brought to mind The Phantom Tollbooth, which I didn't overly like either, while still respecting its cleverness), I didn't understand what they were going on about most of the time, and the muskrat and C. Serpentina just got more and more bizarre. 

'Why into Here often equals There, and so one moves about.'

I don't know all that much about Russell Hoban but got to wondering how much acid he did in the 60s. It also made me think of Lewis Carroll. Although I now know that the Caws of Art play that I didn't understand  at all is a parody of Samuel Beckett's Endgame and Waiting for Godot- allusions that were clearly lost on me. 

The considerations of infinity and ones place in the universe were more comprehensible for me. And so more enjoyable. I liked the notion of infinity being beyond the last visible dog, and that clearly the recurring Bonzo can had something to do with it. 

Standing as he was on uneven ground, the child was tilted at such an angle that he too saw the Dog Star, beyond his father's shoulder. He had never looked up at the sky before, indeed, he had as yet seen little of the earth, and even that little was more frightening than he imagined. At first the icy glitter of the far-off star was terrifying to him; he sensed a distance so vast as to reduce him to nothing. But as he looked and looked upon that steady burning he was comforted a little; if he was nothing, so also was this rat and all the dump. His father's hands were firm on his, and he resolved to see what next the great world offered. 

I did really like his many beautiful descriptive passages scattered throughout the book. 

Glittering above the pond she flew away, lilting on the warm wind like a song in the sunlight, like a sigh in the summer air. 

 Springtime passed. The flickering play of shadows from the leaves above dappled the depths below, and the mud on the bottom smelled of summer. Water striders darted on silver points of light far above the heads of the mouse and his child, and fish leaped after hovering mayflies, to fall back with bright splashes that spangled the quivering water ceiling. 

And Hoban uses such a magnificent vocabulary, that certainly stretched me at times. Gibbous. Mansard. Dormer. Parapet. All good. But chthonic and rataplan? Some of the vocabulary though gave the book a much more dated feel to me than the 1960s. Perhaps it is all because of the pre-electronic era toys too? It is nice to have a bittern as a character though! Another word not heard all that often. Being transported by birds seems a bit of an easy way out at times, and Master Wicker will now always relate it back to The Hobbit. There aren't that many ways for wind-up toys to travel around the countryside though are there?

I found the ending a bit odd, all redemeptive and rather biblical, some of which didn't work for me.  Ultimately I suppose it's a tale of persistence, relentless optimism, and pressing on regardless (the motto of my bushwalking club at uni).

She had been taken to a house much grander than the one on the counter, and there she had endured what toys endure. She had been smeared with jam and worried by the dog, she had been sat upon, and she had been dropped. She had been made to pull wagons, had been shot at by toy cannons, and had been left out in the rain until her works had rusted fast and she was thrown away. Still she endured, and deep within her tin there blazed a spirit that would not be quenched. Though the heavens should fall, she knew that justice one day would be done. That day, and that day only was what she lived for: to pace again with swinging trunk beside the windows of the mansion that was hers; to know again the stately mode of life that was her due. In the meantime, here was a rat to be encountered, and he should be confronted firmly, as she had encountered all adversity so far. 

Still, a book that clearly gives us much to ponder, and I'm glad to have read it. It seems the philosophical aspects have won The Mouse and His Child many adult fans. I'm sure it would be worthy of a reread, and as ever my TBR has grown as I've learnt about Russell Hoban's other books, including possibly his most famous adult book, Riddley Walker. 



Anonymous said...

I read The Mouse and His Child as a child and was a Russell Hoban fan because of it. Your review makes me want to reread it, to see how it effects me as an adult.

Louise said...

It's always interesting to revisit childhood favourites isn't it Allison? I'd be interested to read your thoughts on it if you do reread. It is a book that would certainly repay the rereader I think.