Mar 3, 2009

Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice

And I did some explaining about what had happened to my dad and what a mix-up there had been. And how Pobby and Dingan weren’t really but Kellyanne thought there were and that’s what counts, and how my dad wasn’t a ratter but people thought he was and that’s what counts too.
Set in Lightning Ridge, an Opal mining town in Australia, Pobby and Dingan is narrated by Ashmol Williamson, older brother of eight-year-old Kellyanne Williamson. Kellyanne has two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan. Ashmol finds his sister’s insistence that her friends are real annoying, and he loves to contradict her. The rest of Lightening Ridge, however, finds it endearing, and they love to humour her by asking her about Pobby and Dingan, giving her extra lollipops for them, etc. And nothing makes Kellyanne happier.

One day, however, Pobby and Dingan go missing. At Kellyanne’s insistence, their father takes her and Ashmol to the Opal mines to look for them. Another miner sees them there, and accuses Mr. Williamson of ratting his claim–the worst possible crime in a mining town. While their father has to prove his innocence, and face the whole town’s hostility in the meantime, Ashmol continues to look for Pobby and Dingan. Even though he’s always disliked them, he cannot deny that their absence is making his little sister sick with grief.

I first read this novella the year it was published, because my then best friend handed it to me and said, “You’ve got to read this”. Funny how those words can work magic. I loved it, and it made me cry my eyes out. Now, almost ten years later, I decided to read it again, and I’m happy to report that I still love it, and that it still made me tear up (and if I didn’t cry like last time it’s because I knew how it would end, and more than that I cannot say).

I loved Ashmol’s voice. He’s a wonderful narrator. He sounds very much like a young boy, like an older brother, in that he’s not really willing to admit that things like little sisters could matter so much to him. And yet the fact that he cares still comes across perfectly, and all the emotion he’s holding back is as visible as if it were undisguised.

I loved the setting too. The story is as much about Lightening Ridge as it is about Ashmol and Kellyanne, about a community of persistent and hopeful miners, about poverty and camaraderie and almost-despair.

Most of all, though, it’s about how imaginary things matter, how they have real effects on our lives. This is a recurrent theme in some of my favourite fiction: the conversation between Death and Susan at the end of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, the bit at the end of Paper Towns about how metaphors have consequences, and of course, the Sandman quote on my sidebar. It has been there from the very start because it’s a sort of unofficial motto of this blog, and, in some ways, of my life.

Me, I’m as skeptic as they come, but I don’t see “unreal” as being the same as “unimportant”. Not even the same as “untrue”—not quite. The things we make up matter. They matter a lot. They have the strength that we grant them, and it’s a mistake to overlook that.

Other lovely bits:
And I also remember him telling me that all this land where Lightening Ridge is now was once covered by seawater and how all kinds of sea creatures had been found fossilized in the rock. I felt a shiver go down my spine just thinking about how strange this was, that a sea was once here where now there is nothing but dry land. And suddenly I thought how maybe if this amazing thing was true then maybe Pobby and Dingan were true too.

Kellyanne was right. Death looked like it was just too expensive for some people. Plus it was weird thinking of all those dead people under the ground, especially when you thought about how a lot of the dead folks had spent their lives working under the ground as well. Many of the signs said Killed in Mining Accident. And there were flowers and colourful stones under their names and most of them said R.I.P. I used to think that meant they’d sort of been ripped out of their lives like opal ripped out of the clay.
Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On


  1. Even more than the passages from the book, I think I'm most in love with this quote: "The things we make up matter. They matter a lot. They have the strength that we grant them, and it’s a mistake to overlook that."

  2. That sounds like a good book, if it can impact you like that on a re-read. Thanks for the review.

  3. I love when I re-read a book from long ago and find that it was just as wonderful as the first time. This book sounds very compelling.

  4. I saw a movie based on this book last year, but didn't realize at the time it was based on a book. The screen might have said something about it, but I was on an airplane at the time, and between jet lag and turbulence, I didn't exactly catch everything...anyway, the movie was okay, but I'll bet the book is much better. I'll have to pick this one up.

  5. It sounds like a really beautiful book. I don't remember ever having an imaginary friend, but I used to teach a little boy who had one. I think I must have been the only teacher who included the imaginary friend in my classroom and often asked his opinion to make the little boy laugh!

  6. Sorry for some reason my message posted twice, so I removed it - keeps happening this evening - I think my wireless internet is being affected by the very bad weather!

  7. Debi: I'm not surprised that you can relate :)

    bermudaonion: I really love re-reading...I should do it more often. Most of the time it's only on a second read that I can tell for sure if a book deserves to be called an all-time favourite.

    Priscilla: I love it's a great feeling :)

    Amanda: Opal Dreams, right? I've heard of it, but I haven't been able to watch it. It's easy to imagine it not being nearly as good, though, because for me a big part of what makes the book work so well is the narrator's voice.

    Scrap Girl: lol, I love that you did that! I've seen people go nuts when a child has an imaginary friend, but I really don't see why it has to be "unhealthy" or whatever. And don't worry about the double happens to me too.

  8. I just have to say I'm amazed how many detailed book reviews you put up. Quantity and quality. You put the rest of us to shame ;)

  9. sweet book cover and wonderful review as always.
    its a good thing when a book can make you cry.

  10. You always post such beautiful reviews, Nymeth! This one sounds good and emotional to me, I'll have to check it out. :)

  11. I've never heard of this book but as usual for me, after reading your wonderful review, I feel like I must read it!!

  12. I have to echo what Lenore says! And you're a star commenter, too! You're amazing.

    This sounds good...I'd never heard of it..all the better. :)

  13. --> Most of all, though, it’s about how imaginary things matter, how they have real effects on our lives.

    You had me at the quote but that line, plus the reference to Susan and Death's discussion in Hogfather made my day!

  14. What a great sounding little book! Can't wait to read this one :)

  15. Sounds like one for me! :-) And I agree with you - we give power to the things we make up so we shouldn't be surprised that they matter in the end.

  16. I'm about to re-read a book that made me "cry my eyes out" the first time I read it too and I'm wondering what my reaction is going to be this time. Glad your re-reading experience was a good one!

  17. It's great when you re-read a book after such a long time and still find it beautiful. I loved your review!

  18. Lenore: Aw, you're too kind. Some bloggers are even more prolific, though! I'm perpetually in awe of Becky, for example.

    Naida: Yes, it's always a good thing :)

    Melody: It's such a sweet little book. I hope you enjoy it if you pick it up.

    Staci, I hope you enjoy it!

    Amy: Thank you so much! YOU are amazing :)

    Lightheaded: I knew you'd appreciate the reference :D

    Chris: It's lovely! And plus it's under 100 pages can read it in a single sitting. Always an advantage for people with 200 tbr books :P

    Joanna: Yes :) Stories being the perfect example.

    Ladytink: You got me curious! Which book is it?

    Valentina, thank you! And yes, I love it when that happens.

  19. Yes! Opal Dreams, that's what it was called. I could not remember for the life of me, thanks!

  20. I read this book a long while ago, but was enchanted with it. Even though it is short, the tone and scope were perfect. I am really glad this one held up as a re-read for you. Great review!

  21. What a lovely review. I read this book many years ago and cried my eyes out too! I had forgotten all about it until you mentioned it--I also love the sweet cover on your edition.

  22. Amanda: Glad to have helped! Not being able to remember stuff can drive me nuts :P

    Zibilee: Enchanting is a perfect word for it :)

    Kim: It's a lovely cover, isn't it? I like the light. And I have a matching bookmark!

  23. I actually make up a lot of things and have quite a few imaginery friends. This book sounds great!

  24. What I mean, though, is stuff like playing with teddies (I still do)...

  25. Cool review! I'm glad you enjoyed this book, I had read an excerpt of it in a BoldType newsletter and it sounded really good.


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