Review Blog

Apr 17 2012

A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. by Penny Dolan

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 9781408801376.
(Ages: 12+) Highly recommended. Young Mouse is born into a wealthy and privileged family in Victorian England. But when he is two years old his botanist parents are listed as missing at sea, and Mouse is left living with his uncaring Grandfather and his Uncle Scrope who is seriously in debt. Only Mouse stands between Scrope and the family fortune. Hanny, his loving nurse, knows that Mouse is in danger, and spirits him away to live with her in the countryside for 'reasons of his health'. This idyllic childhood doesn't last long as the malevolent Mr Button, to whom Scrope owes a fortune, sets in motion a plan to get rid of Mouse. The young boy is sent to Murkstone Hall, an unspeakably horrible boarding school that Mouse must escape if he has any hope of survival. So begins the remarkable journey, dogged by the tenacious Button, that will change his life.
From the table of contents, list of dramatic personae and opening illustrations, this book promised something delightful. And it delivers. The story is beautifully paced, with just the right amount of terror, despair and hardship, leavened with love, compassion and friendship.
The Victorian era and its characters and landscapes are brought to detailed life. From the chilly grand mansion that was Mouse's home to the idyllic rural life that comprise Mouse's earliest memories and on to the grim boarding school that would have done Dickens proud. The lovingly described London and especially the Albion theatre with its cast of eccentric personalities is a wonderful accomplishment.
The ending is beautifully done - not necessarily 'They Lived Happily Ever After', but a more thoughtful musing on the Mouse that has grown and been forever changed by his experiences and friendships.
This is the type of book I would have devoured as a young reader, and which many years later I still find fascinating. It is quite astonishing how a good author can transport you to another place where you really feel a part of the events; you find yourself holding your breath in the nail biting moments, or feeling the delight of a warm fire and a good meal after a long and dangerous journey. This is timeless storytelling.
Alicia Papp

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