The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson
|The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: Lady Agatha Farlingham is captured by a yeti, and agrees to bring up his motherless children. Many decades later danger threatens, and the yetis have to flee their idyllic home. Agatha decides the only place her beloved yeti family will be safe is at her ancestral home, in Hampshire. But she is old now: who will take them there?|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 212||Date: July 2012|
Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013
Oh, this is a lovely, lovely book! It will tug at your heart-strings right till the very last page, and you will quickly grow as fond of these wonderful Tibetan creatures as Lady Agatha was. Agreed, they are very large and clumsy, and extremely hairy, but make no mistake: in this story it is the humans, not the yetis, who are abominable.
Eva Ibbotson does not, however, fall into the trap of simply reversing tradition to make the people horrid and the yetis the heroes. She was a far more subtle author than that, and clearly enjoyed poking a little gentle fun at absolutely everyone, human or not. Like many an indigenous inhabitant of foreign lands at the beginning of the last century, our yetis are taught by the intrepid lady mountaineer to speak English, sing hymns, avoid burping after meals and never scratch their armpits however bad the itch. But they are unable to control a tendency to go overboard with certain aspects of their etiquette. There is a delightful scene, early in the book, when the yetis learn they must apologise if they have caused any inconvenience. From that moment on, we are told, the valley is constantly full of the sound of murmured apologies to every plant, tree shoot and blade of grass the yetis eat.
Time moves on, and the yetis are at risk of discovery. Helicopters fly over the valley, property developers build luxury hotels on the mountain slopes, and Agatha worries that her beloved charges will be captured and locked up in zoos. Eventually Lucy, who sleepwalks after an excess of yak-milk pudding, accidentally reveals their location, and it is time for the yetis to leave their home forever. But by now Agatha is a very old lady indeed, so she cannot undertake the rescue herself. Luckily two children, Con and Ellen, turn up in the nick of time, and with the help of lorry driver Perry, they set out to escort the innocent creatures across the world from Tibet to Agatha's old home in Hampshire. What ensues is a hilariously improbable road trip, full of adventures and near-misses, deadly perils and skin-of-the-teeth escapes which will have the reader chewing his or her fingernails one minute, and crying with laughter the next.
The unfinished manuscript of this story was found among Eva Ibbotson's papers after her death, and it was completed by her son. But there is no need to worry that this might have in any way compromised the quality of the book. Her trademark humour, her love of nature and her magical imagination are all there, and after an amusing start the plot moves at a cracking pace to its exciting, hair-raising conclusion. Boys and girls alike will love its oddball humour, and while the book does convey a clear message about respecting those who are not the same as us, it is never preachy or heavy-handed. It is, in short, a wonderful book which will be read with great pleasure, and then reread. No author could ask for more.
Another Ibbotson road trip that will have you alternately laughing and crying is One Dog and His Boy. It comes very highly recommended by Bookbag.
The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2012.
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