Marilyn Edwards: White Chin
Catnip Publishing, £6.99
Ages: 10 up
Thanks to Catnip Publishing for sending me this: a bit of a surprise as I was expecting Jinny, but I expect they know what I think about her, so are giving me a welcome chance to spread my wings.
Marilyn Edwards' White Chin was published on 1st August, and it is her first children's novel. White Chin is a young cat, who was abandoned in a wood by two men, and left to survive. He is seen by a girl called Kirstie, who falls in love with him. This doesn't instantly solve White Chin's problems: he goes through several homes before finally settling down with Kirstie.
My initial reaction on seeing this book I have to admit was not positive: the animal story is a very tricky one to get right. there is often not a lot of incident in an animal's life, so the book runs the risk of being a run through of fairly predictable events. Characterisation is often a casualty: the animal either emerges as rather dull, or is humanised, which often doesn't work either: the animal starts to think and feel in a completely unrealistic way. Humankind, in this sort of story, can often be painted in black and white: the dreadful, bad humans who do the animal harm, and the angelic rescuers who find the animal and ensure its life is a thing of well fed, comfortable bliss ever after.
So, I started reading this book not expecting to like it: I am irritated by animals who assume emotions they're unlikely to feel, and I wasn't expecting to be gripped by the plot. After all, it didn't take a lot of imagination to work out how it was going to end. And end as you would expect it does, but the process of getting there is absorbing.
Marilyn Edwards doesn't make her characters angels of rescuing bliss by any means: she shows rather neatly how differently people react to cats, and how even the best intentioned human will have their own needs which often conflict with the animal's. White Chin's first home after his abandonment has a woman who finds him a messy inconvenience, and a man who likes the cat, but can't really be bothered to fight his corner. A sculptress is so besotted by her Maine Coon cat she cannot find room for another animal, and Kirstie, ostensibly the heroine, neglects all her animals in turn, as she moves from one obsession to another: her pony is neglected when she finds White Chin, and he is ignored once she gets two kittens. A home where an animal gets shelter and enough to eat still might not actually be a good home.
Marilyn Edwards is good at her animals too: I was convinced by them all. There is an oriental cat, Dilly, who lurks every bedtime to stop White Chin getting upstairs; Adorabelle, the Maine Coon queen, alternately flirtatious and cool, and the outdoor farm cat, Stubs, who keeps himself to himself. White Chin himself is a cat who really needs peace and quiet, but this is rarely what he gets.
The author does an excellent job of weaving together the many different ways people and animals react. I particularly liked the way Kirstie was more than an Animal Ark rescue child: she's by no means perfect, and it was fascinating to see her coming to understand how she behaves, and how it affects her animals. This isn't just another animal story: it's a slice of life.
The illustrations are an absolute triumph: France Baudin has done a wonderful job.