Mouse and his child book
What I loved: The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban
The Mouse and his Child is a perfect book for the word-dreaming child. The tale of two tin wind-up mice in search of their own territory sings with incident, humour and emotion. At its heart is a story of family bonds that cannot be broken. And now Faber has reissued the illustrated novel as part of their classics series — in a neat square-ish volume with bright gold-embossed lettering — not quite fifty years after it first appeared in The novel begins around Christmas time in a toy store, where a cluster of toys wait for new homes and new futures.
As I've written here before, I'm not much of a re-reader. Nor do I like the idea of reading for comfort: when I read I want to be challenged, unsettled, disorientated. Nevertheless, there is one book which, when in gloomy moods and melancholy moments, I find myself picking up again and again.
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The Mouse and His Child is the story of two clockwork mice, a father and son. When the key in the father's back is wound, he dances in a circle, swinging his son up and down. They begin their existence in the warmth of a toy shop at Christmastime, surrounded by fellow windup toys; all the mouse child wants is for the lady elephant who rather puts on airs to be his mother, the seal who balances a ball on her nose to be his sister, and for them all to live in the elegant doll house on the counter. Alas, there is a long and difficult journey between the mice and any such hope of happiness. Soon they are sold to a family, and for several years are only brought out at Christmas. On one such night, the mouse child is overcome with longing for the elephant and the doll house, and, breaking the all-important "rules of clockwork," he begins to cry.
It is about toy mice, yet the clockwork father and son move through a world in which small animals act out human dramas. The story shares commonalities with E. Townsend explains that The Mouse And His Child is clearly North American but has, for some reason, been far more popular in Britain, where it is regarded a classic. There is a distinctly Disney feel about it. These illustrations remind me more of Sir Quentin Blake, but with close attention to shade and tone which adds a slightly noir feel. The mice are searching for the things that people want: happiness, a family, a home, self-winding freedom, from their bright morning in the toy shop at Christmas to their ending on a birdhouse platform by a railway line, near the town dump. The mice dance in a circle when wound.