little town


Children’s novels are one of the hardest things to write. The sort of creative glee and mania that appeals to children is something that most adults find difficult to emulate. Fortunately, most kids – being inexperienced in the world of literature – tend to settle for something that talks down to them and recycles old ideas. It’s an approach that has made J.K. Rowling a billionaire.

Every once in a while, you get a writer who remembers that children are actually people, all be it one’s who haven’t had to deal with the horrors of mortgage repayments or tax-returns. The result tends to be something that makes kids laugh so hard that snot comes out their noses and reminds adults how to have fun. The Little Town of Marrowville is one such rare example; a book aimed at kids that captures youthful humour perfectly. By which we mean it’s energetic, weird, and delightfully disgusting.

The Little Town of Marrowville is a fantasy story with an appropriately ridiculous plot. Our protagonists are Aubrey and her sister. The latter doesn’t have a name, mostly because their father, a 12-fingered monster called Howard Howard, is an awful creature. Fortunately, Howard Howard isn’t in the story for very long because out heroes get rid of him, thanks to a little help from some sinister locals and some light cannibalism. The kids then spend most of the novel trying to avoid the consequences of their actions as vile adults pursue them. The town itself is a surreal, inescapable place. The inhabitants are quite mad and mostly monstrous.

This is a children’s novel that also doubles as an introduction to cosmic horror and weird fiction. It’s funny on every page, but also very dark. In a fun way. In short, you’ll laugh, laugh again, feel slightly ill and then laugh even more. The story reads like the bizarre love child of H.P. Lovecraft and Roald Dahl, though without any of the misanthropy of either of those authors.

The book is assisted with some lovely art from Louis Ghibault, who provides the right level of whimsical oddness to the work. Ghibault creates a splendidly Gothic world, and it fits perfectly.

This is John Robertson’s debut novel, though the author is better known for his cult stage-show, The Dark Room. The show is endlessly quotable, and so is this book. The sense of humour is very similar and enjoys the same sort of run-on narrative style. The book barely stops for breath and this makes it compelling reading. Great fun for adults and totally amazing for kids, The Little Town of Marrowville is highly recommended. And we look forward to the sequel.