I don’t read young adult fiction as a rule, I wouldn’t say I am sneery towards it, I just always worry I will be much harder on a young adult book as an adult reader which would be unfair as I am not its intended market. That is why I used to get The Bookboy and The Girl Who Reads Too Much to review them for me. However a mixture of my Gran being ill, and the visiting and mind consumption that has taken up, along with the arrival of Oscar into the household led me to picking up ‘To Be A Cat’ by Matt Haig, an author whose adult books I have been meaning to read for a while.
Bodley Head Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by Shane at Nottingham Waterstones
I really don’t want to spoil this read by giving too much away about it, or indeed letting the cat out of the bag (sorry couldn’t help it), yet with a title like ‘To Be A Cat’ you might have figured out where the heart of this story might lie. That said Matt Haig does produce a book that has more layers than the initial one that almost hits you around the head, though the actual transmogrification doesn’t happen until 60ish pages in, sorry I have got ahead of myself…
Barney Willow is a rather unhappy boy. His parents have divorced, since which his father has disappeared (literally vanished) and his mother is trying so hard to be busy she has become ‘a blur’, he is bullied at school by both children like Gavin Needle and also teachers including the particularly evil and malicious head teacher Miss Whipmire. Apart from his best friend Rissa he really doesn’t like his life, it would be much easier if he was a dog, like his King Spaniel Guster maybe, or even a cat? Sometimes though you have to be careful what you wish for and the consequences that it might bring don’t you?
I really, really enjoyed this book, and I have to admit that I was initially a little dubious. Haven’t we all read books about a bullied child before? Would this book be original? It really is. I liked Barney as a character from the start he is immediately likeable, I ended up empathising with him as a bullied child (as I was myself for a time) and taking a real dislike to Miss Whipmire (who was my favourite character for being so evil, alongside Guster who when we hear his inner voice is a hilarious character/dog) and Gavin. As the book went on I also fully hoped Barney would get the happy ending he so deserved, without spoiling anything I can say that Haig gives us a very interesting ending you might not expect, I’ll say no more.
For me what really made the book was its sense of fun and the humour. Matt Haig gives the book a narrative from the author and does this in a really wonderful way by interrupting the story now and again, and indeed from the start, in a way that mixes witty asides that will instil the giggles in a child and the possible adult reading the book aloud whilst also having the edge of it being an oral narrative of ‘are you sitting comfortably’ which all children universally, along with most adults (I read ‘Redemption in Indigo’ by Karen Lord before this which does the same for adults, review next week), enjoy as it instantly pulls you in from the start. I was sold…
“Here is a secret I shouldn’t really tell you, but I will because I just can’t help it. It’s too big. Too good. Okay, sit down, get ready, brace yourself, have some emergency chocolate handy. Squeeze a big cushion. Here it is:
Cats are magic.”
I really have no criticism of the book to be honest with you, well apart from the cover which isn’t as good as the one on the proof copy I had which is illustrated below with another avid reader, yes fo course cats can read, tut.
Oscar makes it look so hard ‘To Be A Cat’
If you aren’t a big fan of young adult fiction then I would say give ‘To Be A Cat’ a whirl for the humour and that sense of being told a story when you were a child, and the fact that it is just a really good fun read. If you know the joys/terrors etc of reading to kids regularly then read them this, they will love it. It’s also a book that, without being moralistic, is a great book for younger or older people about accepting ones lot in life and the skin that you are in, without ever being patronising or twee. Mind you if you don’t like cats then maybe it’s not for you to be fair. That said I should warn you tomorrow’s post will be a very catty one (in the feline sense, not the vitriol type) though if you don’t like cats then I doubt you will have gotten this far.
I definitely want to get on and read Matt Haig’s adult fiction now. I am hoping it is this much fun, have any of you tried it? I have ‘The Possession of Mr Cave’ and ‘The Radleys’ to read, would you recommend either/both of them?