09 May 2011

Book of the Week (99): "One Dog and His Boy" by Eva Ibbotson

When Eva Ibbotson died in October, aged 85, she had just finished work on one final book, this story about a dog, a boy, and the adventures they go through in order to be allowed to keep one another. And to my mind One Dog and His Boy is as good as anything she wrote in her amazing 35-year career.

Ten-year-old Hal has always wanted a dog. His super-materialistic parents lavish expensive gifts on him at every opportunity, but just won’t stand for the idea of a pet. All too messy for their beautiful, luxurious, spotless, lifeless house. But they believe they can cure Hal’s enthusiasm by letting him have a dog just for a weekend, certain that he’ll quickly tire of it – so they go to the Easy Pets Dog Agency and hire one. But boy and dog become immediately attached, so when the parents return Fleck to the agency, Hal has to take drastic action. He kidnaps the dog and runs away. But not long into his escape he finds he has acquired four other canine friends, as well as a human friend to accompany him on his journey. Oh, and there is a private detective trying to track him down now, too, and a huge reward for any information leading to his apprehension…

Ibbotson can be wickedly funny when she wants to be, but what will stay with you once you’ve finished this book is the warmth of it – of the story (loyalty, bravery, hope, belonging), of the characters (all of them pin-sharp – including some particularly ghastly grown-ups) but mainly of the voice – that voice, inimitable, that made us all feel as though we knew Eva Ibbotson personally, and just loved being in her company. And here, and in so many other marvellous books, we’ll have her around for a long time yet. What a legacy that is.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

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