The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth by Mackenzie Crook
|The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth by Mackenzie Crook|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Entertaining, energetic and amusing – but necessary, particularly? This prequel will be a lot more of a Marmite book than the brilliant main volume.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: November 2013|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
It's the 1760s, and young Benjamin is starting his diaries to record his path from a smart eleven year old to a noted scientist. It would, he thinks, be a very relevant document. And so it proves, in the light of what it eventually yields us. But before then there is his domestic matters to get over – the great-granddad who seems to have run out of words to say in this life, and his horrid mother and her frequently odd menus, and frequent, odder diseases. And the small matter of a harassing old/young man, Farley Cupstart, and his desperate search for something within Benjamin's household – something that looks a bit like a dragonfly, but just a bit more human…
With such a brilliant debut under his belt I really did wonder what Mr Crook would give us next. With its disguised nature and the time passed between reading the first book and this, it was a bit of a surprise to find this was the answer. We start with the ridiculously cocky Tooth diary, and his ego in the realm of science, finding and dreaming as he does of weird creatures. The Cupstart farrago kicks in, and with several very funny jokes we see this plot develop, before too many people have the misfortune of leaving the book, resulting in Crook and Tooth both with nothing left to generate but the diaries and scientific papers found so notably and importantly in the previous volume.
Yet, despite there being several hilarious elements (that I could copy except I feel quoting anything too much here would spoil not this but the other book too) this does mean we get a strange amalgam. We get the unusual plot of Benjamin's lifeline, going from vital young man to harried scientist in the space of a few years. But the harrying isn't done by Cupstart, and with the destination in sight the actual route Crook fashions to get us there is most peculiar. Despite a suitably snappy description courtesy of the relevant diary entries there is a very old-fashioned lack of plot here, and too much that is done for instant effect without complete relevance to the end product. Wherefore the ghost, for one?
In the end, as much as I enjoyed a lot of the comedy, and felt appropriately for the characters in the more dramatic pieces, I did find this book was a bit of a false step. If one were to read this before the original, even if it is definitely set before the original, one would certainly wonder what all the fuss was about. It seems fresh (despite having some very old yet very good jokes in) and will appeal to returning readers, but is it completely wise for Crook to produce what is really a collector's companion volume, this early in his writing career? He has the assured voice and brilliant illustrations (just how lifelike are his still lifes, and appropriate his character design?) I expected, but on the evidence of his brilliant debut he has the power to produce a sterling, dramatic novel of great cleverness, and this, unfortunately, wasn't one.
Still, it did keep my attention for two hours and it certainly made me laugh, and as such I'll mark it reasonably, and thank the publishers for my review copy. It did represent a fall from the great height of his debut, however.
We're enjoying the equally fantastical series begun with The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, for a similar age bracket.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth by Mackenzie Crook at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth by Mackenzie Crook at Amazon.com.
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