The Taming of the Cat by Helen Cooper
|The Taming of the Cat by Helen Cooper|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: To avoid being eaten, a mouse living in a cheese shop tells its cat custodian a hastily-invented saga of magic-driven quest. But if you feel the fantasy shows too many signs of being hastily written, and fitting ill with the framing device, you won't be alone.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: October 2023|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
|External links: Author's website|
Once again, mice are pitched against cat. In this case, principally, we have Brie the mouse, up against Gorgonzola the cat – and in case you're seeing a connection, they live in a cheese shop and therefore all the names used here seem to be the names of cheeses. Anyway, Brie is shunned, scorned and, if you must, mous-tracised, for the way his habits don't match the other mice he lives with. They nibble up paper wrapping from the cheese for bedding – he displays it as art and makes stories based on the visuals on it. And that story-telling will come in handy one night, when he feels all alone and cast out. It's almost as if there were another character from fable who had had to tell stories to keep themselves alive. This makes Brie the top dog in the mouse community, though, as all the others had the chance to half-inch some cheese while the cat was distracted. But will the story have the successful sequel it needs when that cheese runs out?
It's been donkey's years since we've had the chance of reviewing this author (Pumpkin Soup was the last millennium, in fact!). Here the offering seemed a blend of animal story and fantasy mission, also featuring animals (partly at the request of the feline audience of one). It was just that for a lot of my reading of this I did not know that one side justified the other.
I mean, I get it that Brie has to tell a story, Scheherazade-style, to keep breathing. That bit works. But did it have to be the story he tells? Yes, it is kind of influenced by the listening cat's tastes and interjections, and yes a lot of it (actually, more than you will ever suspect) is riffing off real world cheese names, but it really didn't seem that mousey a story, and in the finish I did wonder if it was strong enough to sustain enough interest. So perhaps it needed a framing device – but did that need to be a mickey and his imaginative use of cheese labels?
I think I've got a good ear for when a pop song has been built of two half-songs – the chorus from one piece crammed into the verses from a draft of something else, or vice versa; I've seen some of my very favourite artists do it. And I got the feeling the same was happening here. In idle time thoughts turned to cheese label artwork, and names, and so the author decided to have fun (potentially more fun that we had as a result) and create a fantasy, cod-fairytale built around them, and decided that to bulk things out an unlikely couple could be created to enable its telling. That's how I saw it, anyway, ultimately, and however warm and tightly-done each story's ending was, that for the animals seemed rushed and the one never crossed over enough to have any bearing on the other. I would also have pegged the entire fantasy as being rushed – written in one hasty chunk of inspiration – were it not for the well-connected resolution for all the characters.
Still, I ought to be grateful for two medium-level stories in two covers as opposed to one. And there are virtues ahoy here when you see the artwork, which is superb and then some. I certainly flicked through my proof of this before actually reading it a darned sight more than your average, enjoying the visuals to come. But something else I saw upon both reading this and reflecting upon it was potential for improvement. I would not have expected that from the experienced Ms Cooper, and so – however wonderful the drawings – I feel three and a half stars a mouse's whisker on the generous side.
I must still thank Faber and Faber for my review copy.
There is an exiled critter and a great deal of fable-styled animal fantasy to be had with The Story of Greenriver by Holly Webb, and what is, as of September 2023, an imminent sequel.
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