I've recently read and very much enjoyed a couple of adult books by Horatio Clare, Icebreaker and Orison for a Curlew; I suppose you would say he's a travel writer, or maybe a nature writer, or quite likely both those and other things as well. So I thought it would be interesting to see what he would do with a children's book - and the answer is, he does a great deal.
From birth, Aubrey is recognised as being a 'rambunctious' boy. By the time he's four, he's managed to get out of the house and into his parents' car without anyone noticing, and to let off the handbrake; so that the car drifts gently into beloved German car of his neighbour, Mr Ferraby. (Mr Ferraby is a delightful character. He follows Aubrey's progress with interest and astonishment, and I think it's typical of Clare's writing that Mr Ferraby does not shout and jump and down and hate Aubrey forever - rather, he says 'quietly. "No-one's hurt, that's the main thing."')
Aubrey's parents are Suzanne, a nurse, and Jim, a teacher. For several years, all goes well for the family. But then something horrible happens. Jim begins to worry about everything. All the colour has gone out of the world for him, and gradually he is spending most of his time under the duvet, unable to work, unable to be happy. The adult reader recognises this as depression. Aubrey doesn't know what it is, but he does know that he's going to find a way to help his dad.
If I explain how he does this, it will spoil the story for you, and it will sound very complicated - whereas when you're reading it, everything seems beautifully logical. In any event, what happens is that the creatures who live in the nearby wood help him to help his father, explaining that he is under attack from the Terrible Yoot, and Aubrey must battle it on his father's behalf.
Well, he does. But even that doesn't turn out entirely as you'd imagine.
This is a really lovely, very original book, which has at its centre something which must be very difficult for children to cope with - a deeply depressed parent. It explores what this feels like in a completely unpreachy sort of a way, using characters who are quirky, charming, funny - and just nice. At the same time it's an adventure, a quest, and it's firmly rooted in the natural world. It's beautifully illustrated by Jane Matthews, and beautifully written by Horatio Clare. I loved it.
Sue Purkiss's latest book is 'Jack Fortune and the Search for the Hidden Valley'.
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE