Jun 29, 2011

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay

Disclaimer: this is the first time I’ve ever considered simply not including a book cover in a post because I dislike it so intensely. I know I complained about the Casson Family books’ previous cartoonish covers in the past, but you know what, I kind of take it all back. Those covers were at least a bit quirky and eye-catching and different from the current trend of actual-photos-of-people-from-the-shoulders-up. But this? This is just so samey – not to mention that it misrepresents the tone of the series to an unprecedented extent. As we all know, books are judged by their covers all the time, and sadly I can imagine many potential fans not being drawn to this cover at all.

Anyway. Caddy’s World is a new addition to Hilary McKay’s delightful and very funny Casson family series, which focuses on four siblings who are part of an artistic, eccentric family and on their circle of friends. I didn’t even know there was going to be a new book in the series, let alone that it was out now – and then one day last week I walked into my local library and lo and behold, there it was, on the “new books” table display. Needless to say, finding it absolutely made my day. It felt like one big gift from the universe wrapped up in a bright shiny bow, and just when I desperately needed one. Don’t you love it when that happens?

I reviewed books one and two in this series last year after first hearing about them on Jenny’s blog, and then I read the following three without reviewing them because I’d kind of run out of things to say. This isn’t to say that each book in the series isn’t unique; it’s just that I love them all for mostly the same reasons and there are only so many ways in which I can express that. But now enough time has gone by that I a) can overlook the fact that I’m repeating myself and b) can use this as an opportunity to remind you all that you need to read this series now.

Caddy’s World is actually a prequel to the series: it focuses on twelve-year-old Caddy and on her three best friends, and it takes place many years before Saffy’s Angel, at around the time when Rose Casson is born. As readers will know from previous books, Rose is born prematurely, and for some time the family isn’t sure whether she will survive. The inclusion of the first chapter of Saffy’s Angel at the end of the book kind of implies that Caddy’s World can be read first, but I don’t think it can – not to the same emotional effect. You need to know who that fragile premature baby is going to become; you need to know why everything that’s happening matters so much for the book to be as moving as it has the potential to be.

Twelve-year-old Caddy is already the animal lover we know her to be from her university days, and at one point in the book she rescues a baby pigeon that fell from its nest and takes it home. Inevitably the helpless little bird dies, and Eve, her mother, confesses she always knew it would. To which Caddy replies:
‘Why didn’t you tell me then?’
‘What would you have done if I had?’
‘I wouldn’t have bothered,’ said Caddy. ‘I wouldn’t have made it a nest. I wouldn’t have fed it. I wouldn’t have let it have a name. I wouldn’t have loved it.’
This exchange is at the very heart of what Caddy’s World is about: you can’t really hold back from loving things; not without losing something precious in the process. Caddy cries so much she “spoils the funeral”, but still she doesn’t become the sort of person who refuses to love things because they’re going to die, or be otherwise lost when the “genie of change” shakes the world. And this is why she’s Caddy Casson, bravest of the brave: she loves, loses, and she loves again. And again. And again.

Like all previous Casson family books, Caddy’s World is humorous, warm, heartfelt, moving, sensitive, and wonderfully ironic. It’s full of little moments that just might go over the heads of some young readers (though by no means all), but you know what, that’s perfectly okay: I imagine they will return to the books one day and pick up more and more of the adult nuances they missed before. Take, for example, a passage such as this:
Caddy could still remember very clearly the world before Indigo and Saffron had arrived. In those days her father had been home nearly all the time. Whole weeks would pass in which no tears were shed, no heads were clutched, no vases were stuffed with apologising roses, no hard sums were done to prove the cheapness of renting a place to work in London compared to the enormous cost of building a soundproof, childproof studio at home.
In those days nobody ever wore dark glasses and explained they had hay fever.
As always, Hilary McKay uses Bill and Eve Casson’s relationship for some deliciously satiric commentary on the different expectations placed on men and women in terms of parenthood and domestic freedoms and obligations. There’s also a wonderfully funny yet moving scene in which Bill expresses amazement at the fact that his children, haters of salad, omelettes, or any of the healthy food he tries to feed them while Eve is in hospital with Rose, will eat Eve’s “starry eggs and tomato moons” with much gusto. He also asks them why he’d never heard of this dish before, to which his children reply that Eve often cooks it to cheer them up when he goes back to London.

Eve’s intense practicality and her knack with the children is contrasted with Bill’s well-meaning but ultimately inexperienced efforts. He loves his children and knows all the theoretical rules of how to raise them, but ultimately he’s just not around that much. Eve’s real role in the family may be unappreciated – as it often is in real life – but it’s by no means unacknowledged by the text.

Oh Hilary McKay. Please never stop writing.

20 comments:

  1. I didn't really read this review as "saving"the book, but I really don't understand why they didn't produce a matching cover! Thanks again for making me aware of this book.

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  2. Verity, exactly! Another reason why I resent this cover. Don't they know people want their series to match?

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  3. Ooh, this sounds like a series I have to read! I agree about the cover. I def. wouldn't buy this book based on the cover. It does seem that these kinds of covers are quite popular lately, though. Somehow, this and the "Twilight-esque" covers. Apparently, they do sell?

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  4. They do, but I always wonder about the extent to which these things are self-fulfilling prophecies, you know? Same with the issue of advertising and thin/white/conventionally beautiful people dominating representation. Supposedly their faces sell because we deem them more attractive, but WHY do we deem them more attractive in the first place? Surely advertising plays a major role in that.

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  5. Thanks for the head's up! I didn't know she was writing another book in this series either. You can only get it on kindle here now. It won't be out in hardcover until March!

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  6. I also don't like the cover, but really like what you have to say about this book. I think it's time to check these out for myself. They sound like they would be enormously comforting, and that's what I need right now after reading some very heavy and mind-bending stuff. Great review. Should I start with Saffy's Angel?

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  7. Oh my! I cannot believe I have not read about this series at all! I really want to get my hands on this series now! And I know it really makes your day to find something in the library that you weren't expecting :)

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  8. Wonderful review, Ana! I think I have seen Hilary Mackay's books in the bookstore, but haven't read any of her books yet. I actually like that cover picture :) But I wouldn't have bought a book with this cover picture. Cover pictures are so complicated! Caddy's conversation with her mother and your comment on it - "you can’t really hold back from loving things; not without losing something precious in the process" - were so beautiful to read.

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  9. I most certainly do love it when that happens! After reading Saffy's Angel I haven't read any of the others, but will have to track them down.

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  10. Yes, I remember Jenny's review tempted me to read Saffy's Angel, but I still haven't gotten my hands on it. Perhaps it is the time as I'm in the mood for something warm and cozy.

    --Sharry

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  11. I know what you mean about bad covers, especially when you really enjoy a book. Lovely review :D

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  12. It's a testament to how much I love these books that I don't care AT ALL about the cover -- which now that you mention it, I totally dislike. But until you mentioned it, all I could think was how exciting it would be to have a whole new Casson book.

    (Hilary McKay said she asked her editor if the editor would like another Casson book subsequently and the editor said no. WHAT. Insane editor.)

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  13. Thanks for this review! The saying "don't judge a book by its cover" really does apply here. Great book, great author, and another great addition to my books to read list!

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  14. AWFUL COVER. But can't wait for the book! (I am awfully fond of Eve. But my favorite thing about her was the name she gave her youngest daughter.)

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  15. I'm just going to admit that I am that person who would not give this book another glance because of the cover. But luckily I read your blog and now know that her books are very different from what I would have thought from the cover! :)

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  16. I just skimmed over your review because I really think I need to read this series. But, ugh that cover. Definitely not something I'd be drawn to.

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  17. I love the Casson books so, so much, and you're right, that's an atrocious cover (I don't know, I kind of liked the cartoony ones). I'm afraid I skipped your review because I didn't know this was out and must go read it, now, without spoilers.
    (...still staring at that cover. What were they thinking?)

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  18. This does sound like a wonderful series. I'm sorry that I don't remember your reviews from last year. I agree about the cover too. I would never pick this book up off the shelf because the cover really puts me off. It is a reminder for me that many wonderful books might have awful covers so I really need to pick up a book and at least read the dust jacket to see what possibilities it might hold for me.

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  19. Hi! Can you please tell me what time period this book takes place in? Thank you.

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  20. I LOVED this book! Just when I was starting to sink hopelesly into the fact that I had read THE LAST Casson book... Oh well, I guess I can continue doing that now...

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.