Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator)

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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator)

Category: Children's Rhymes and Verse
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Seventy-five years young, these rightfully-held classics are still overflowing with energy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 9780571311866

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It has always struck me to be the very definition of disappointment to think you're going to study Eliot's poetry at college or university, only to find it is some errant dross like 'The Four Quartets'. His book of Cats poems is in the strictest of verse, it's bursting with levity, it's surely great fun to share – what's not to prefer here? If I were you, I'd just ignore what kind of show these pages once inspired, and turn or return to them, Prufrock be damned.

So, in a manner that was completely friendly for Eliot's godchildren, we start with cat lore, and the fact that they have three names – the common, the uncommon and the downright secret. We then diversify into several feline characters – the one on the train, the one who gets to eat his fill on one street and has turned out to be a right old podger, the one who can scare a whole host of bickering dogs off his turf. Some are lazy, some are contrary, some, er, get to walk the plank off a Thames barge.

It has to be said that while the verses were friendly for the youngest of godchildren in the 1930s, some of the vocabulary is quite rarefied here on its 75th birthday, prestidigitation and legerdemain and all that. I guess to some that can only prove the might of the rhymester, the fact that terpsichorean and the original Bombalurina are in here, and all fitting into the meter. The rhyming is first class – it lapses a beat here and there, perhaps, and some break into a sort of chorus that loses some oomph, but these are very easily read as song lyrics. On no account should they be read silently.

As far as I know these 2014 illustrations are the first to completely, yet independently, acknowledge that there was once a stage show based on the contents. Hence the cover, and each poem in turn, gets a performing cat in silhouette, on the boards above the footlights. The main pictures are very loose, sometimes not reflecting the colour of the relevant cat even when it's been made sure we've been told. I can't say I liked them much at all, so I will stick to my well-thumbed childhood copy of these poems, which was a prettier edition. But damn it, with verse this exuberant, there is little need to quibble. If you can't get any other volume, you should at least get this and enjoy it – you'll be able to do so a lot more readily and often than the Eliot works academe raves over.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

You can always enjoy a differently styled edition. Recently we liked I am Cat by Jackie Morris, while the same publisher as Eliot has recently gifted us a further chance to enjoy its other ageless classic, The Iron Man by Ted Hughes.

Buy Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot and Rebecca Ashdown (Illustrator) at Amazon.com.


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