The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M G Schmidt and David Colmer (translator)
|The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M G Schmidt and David Colmer (translator)|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A brazenly unlikely scenario, but one that offers so many warm and clever delights, as this drama of shady goings-on is revealed by nicely-wrought humans, cats – and those that come between.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: July 2014|
|Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books|
Meet Tibble. Despite the feline-sounding name, he's a human man, and a journalist at that. But his boss at the town newspaper isn't too pleased with what product Tibble delivers – for all he seems to write about is cats. The night of his impending dismissal a cat walks in through the window of Tibble's attic flat – or it would have been a cat, a ginger called Minou, but something has turned her into a human. Enough cattish behaviour and intelligence remains however, and she soon helps Tibble out by telling him all the real news that the town's cats are privy to and have never been able to convey before. But can the very feline Minou survive in human form, and what happens when the grapevine of gossip from the cats leads to something so vital to report, but so impossible to prove?
This really is a lost classic, as far as I'm concerned. The author, before she died in 1995, was apparently a doyenne of Dutch children's fiction, and on this evidence alone she certainly deserves the status. Everything about the book smacks of charm – even the front cover, with its very clever and subtle representation of the circumstances on the pages within. Tibble is charming – even when a young, bedraggled, single woman enters his attic flat, we can live with him in wonderment at her being an ex-cat and not wonder why he isn't thinking of, er, more animal thoughts himself. We don't worry that he has a schoolgirl as a best friend, more or less, or that he's too old to be the normal hero of a book that appeals to those aged nine and up.
Minou is great too – a lot of the book's comedy comes from her inner cat and what happens when it breaks through the surface – rubbing her head up against fishmongers in gratification, and so on. It's quite silly-sounding fantasy, I guess, but again – I really liked it. The style of the book, and I would have no idea how much it was subtly modernised, as it first was written in 1970, is still having a little touch of the quaint and old-fashioned, but gets us through the weird scenario with a very matter-of-fact way.
That's necessary when the main thrust of the book is propelled by the various cats of the town – the Cat Press Agency as it becomes to be. It's a bit awkward here and there where we get the dialogue in cattish that Milou has with the other moggies – certainly it would be weird for a film version – but on the whole the balance of very intelligent, anthropomorphised cats helping Milou's new human out works very well with the dramas of that human world.
If anything could be said to let the side down, it is when we get a description of a hotel cat, and realise that while it would have been so easily done, given fresh and lively writing such as this, we haven't been told what any of the other cats look like, merely their names that come from their situation. The little pictures before every chapter here show the variety of cats' poses and of cats themselves, and it would have been nice for them all to have been given a little more personality.
But having said that, the way the book pans out as regards resolving this after that and the other, it is clear to all that Minou is the main character – she is the title character here, and the original Dutch volume simply bore her name. And – to repeat – as unlikely as it sounds, she is a weird fantasy character that works. The world in this book is brilliantly conveyed, and the assured warmth Schmidt brings to proceedings is only shared by the reader when they enjoy the delights in offer here. It might even result in one purring.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
There might be a similar feel of slightly old-fashioned hopefulness to be had with An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden, while for a completely different book about someone being helped by a feline you MUST check out Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M G Schmidt and David Colmer (translator) at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M G Schmidt and David Colmer (translator) at Amazon.com.
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