There is nothing that irritates me more than hitting the finish line without having truly taken the journey. It is like feeling heavy from food yet empty, having savoured nothing. It is like becoming an adult and having learnt nothing. For hitting the finishing line is a win for show. Taking the journey is a win for growth, a personal win. In the generation of shortcuts and instant gratifications, the child in search of growth is left wanting.
When something is pleasing to the eye, cover, font and illustration, it is more likely to incite further discovery wich this book does. I do love a hard back and aesthetics. The thing is, I do expect more. Sure, not all books need stories or narrative. This one, with its linearity can surely mascarade as such. Special effects have their place in the conceptual dots of such a world. They make things appear beautiful, colourful, bribing if not hypnotising the senses like a beautifully multicoloured snake. The invitation is taken most of the time. It is clearly written by a graphic designer, for he favours the beauty of the lettering over its legibility, a common occurence in the field. But then again, there is so little to read that deciphering becomes more of a short adventure and maybe even a taste of savouring some semblant of journey.
There is some wonder in the world that Charlie Mackesy has built. In effect, beyond the visual effects, the child in search of magic is no more sated than with the idea that, if they relate to the Boy, they can indeed speak with and hang around a mole, a fox and a horse. However and to be honest, it could have been any other animal and there could have been no human, that would not have diminished or enhanced the text. Yet, if starring a set of human children and not a child and some animals, it would have revealed its flatness. It felt like those movies that borrow the settings of Christmas to artificially inject some magic in an otherwise empty script. The reader feels a little like the collateral damage.
May the days come back when the writer trusts the reader along the journey that leads to her or his final wisdom. The author here premasticates his perspective and kiss-feeds his final wisdom as the only alternative. It’s almost as if he gave us an illustrated book of personal quotes, expecting a framework of sketched illustrations to suffice as context. This is not what a young mind needs. That being said, I would not stop my child from reading it; it is, after all, a perspective and its own way of doing. Seeing different approaches to life enriches a mind, no matter how little. I just would not like this point of view to appear as the only one, especially by ‘virtue’ of arguably memorable “one-liner”-quotes, cute design and bestselling!
There are indeed postive sides to the cost of this book. I do love a hard back and most of us are not insensitive to the book borrowing off our Winnie the Pooh nostalgia and, maybe for me only, but somehow, also some of St Exupery’s Little Prince. However, it is also the personal touch. The handwriting of Charlie Mackesy might be diffcult to read but it is unique and has the calligraphic style and visual originality of the mind of a child that wins you over. I am unsure if that makes up for the other lacks but I do understand why, for many, the way it paints a uniquely and simple magic environment for the book’s premises may satisfy a mind in search for an escape.
I hear and understand the surprisingly few frustrations that the book raised, no matter how muffled they are in the minority reports. Everything feels imcomplete without the journey, and parallels so ironically the author’s sketches. The book leaves that feeling of incompleteness and nurturing arrested developments in the image of the seemingly “incomplete” illustrations it boasts.
Means, methods are important, because they reveal the true nature of the author more than the end and I do want to know the nature of the person with whom I may or may not agree. They explain from where their reflection is coming. They reveal the constraints on and the borders of the author’s mind: how bound they are in terms of thinking, place or time. It reassures me or not that they may win, but the means that got them there are well-intentioned if not noble. I want my child to know that the value of the methods is equal if not superior to that of the results.
It takes about 5 minutes to read the book. That certainly fits the expected attention span of a child, or arguably calms any adult antagonised by unrewarded expectations. But I do believe that there could have been a journey of the mind beyond the literal protagonists’ walk, to showcase a much needed increase in trust in the minds of children.
It is easy to point out that this review is probably longer than the contents of Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. However, quantity is not my concern and I am sure even sketches can be counted as nearing enough a thousand words. It is easier to get frustrated with the lustre that hides the lack of deep setup. I believe that it is actually part of it. The book has an inviting framing and an interesting set of punchlines that would suffice a certain type of reader. However, it lacks the telling where the substance, the growth, the author’s face and the bulk of my interest lay and those of a child should.
2 out of 5