15 September 2010

Book of the Week (72): "Noah Barleywater Runs Away" by John Boyne

The latest book from John Boyne, widely known for his bestselling Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is a story in a quite different tradition, and it’s a delight.

It’s the story of eight-year-old Noah who has run away from his home, run into the forest where he finds a strange shop owned by a nameless old man. This old man, a puppet-maker, tells him stories from his own life (he was once the fastest runner in the world), and about his father whose shop it used to be. The stories help Noah learn what’s important in life, and it becomes clear to readers what it is he’s running away from, and what he has to do.

A talking dog and donkey (not to mention animate doors, clocks, etc.), a mysterious tree, strange villages nestling deep in the forest, Noah Barleywater’s world is the world of fairy-tale, a world which seems to be like ours, sometimes, but isn’t quite. (And there’s one classic children’s story in particular buried at its heart.) From what seems a typical fairy-tale opening – young hero setting off from home on to discover adventure in the world beyond – Boyne has created something sometimes dark and sometimes moving and often mischievously funny, a vivid rendering of a child’s perception of the baffling, confusing peculiarity of the world around him, and a journey into a place whose very strangeness will feel familiar to you as you read. Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a book filled with magic, of all kinds.

(And as a bonus, there are decorations by picture-book artist Oliver Jeffers. Nice touch.)

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

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