The Tale of Despereaux
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The Tale of Despereaux
Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Where 'Reader, I married him' may feel as conclusive as Conclusions get, DiCamillo's frequent addresses to her Reader are very much part of a continuing narrative. Maybe this will give the flavour: 'Again, Reader, we must go backwards before we can go forwards. With that said, here begins a short history of the life and times of Miggery Sow...' DiCamillo's voice is at once confiding and decorous, for hers is a tale of love, of gallantry, and of betrayal; except our hero is a mouse with big ears and unconventional attitudes and the Princess he adores is named Pea. So, for all the 'Book the Fourths' and chapter titles like 'Perfidy Unlimited' and 'to the dungeon', we are caught up in a wonderfully sustained mock-heroic adventure. The dungeon in question is the domain of some splendidly wicked rats, notably Chiaroscuro and the magnificent Botticelli Remorso, as villainous as Russell Hoban's Manny Rat and as loquacious as E B White's Templeton. DiCamllo's rodents are constantly searching not only for a mouse supper, but for a Larger Truth. It would be a treachery to reveal the plot; suffice it to say that it is peopled by Princess Pea, a guitar-strumming King, a Cook boiling up an illicit soup (soup is Off, by royal decree), a melancholy jailer named Gregory, a council of ageing and timorous mice and a galumph of a serving girl, the aforementioned Miggery Sow. And, of course, Despereaux of the large ears. Timothy Basil Ering's muted grey illustrations (decorations, if you will) marry with the tale - there are echoes of Steadman or Scarfe, without the savage edge. As with so many children's texts originating in the States, there's a sense that the design of the whole book has been thought through with attention and pride. Walker Books, not unnaturally, are pleased to tell us that the author's recent Because of Winn-Dixie has sold 200,000 copies in hardback alone. The Tale of Despereaux might well do likewise. That intimate yet formal, witty narrative voice invites adult enjoyment too, and Despereaux would read aloud very well indeed, for all its generous length. It's different and it's a delight.