Thursday, 8 May 2014

'Wild Wood' by Jan Needle - reviewed by Sandra Horn

Clearly, it is time to set aside my prejudice against sequels, prequels and add-ons to beloved books, written by someone other than the original author. The one noble exception (so far) was Jean Rhys’s brilliant Wide Sargasso Sea, which I didn’t realize was the prequel to Jane Eyre at first, anyway. I’m still not going to contemplate Death Comes to Pemberley, so there, but  I loved this take on The Wind in the Willows. The clever, good-humoured writing allows the painless re-casting of dear old Ratty, Mole and Badger as privileged idlers, totally unaware of the privations of the oppressed Wildwooders. There are shades of Akenfield here, and the peasants’ revolt, but softened by the sprightly pace of the story and the anthropomorphic setting. I was suddenly chilled at one point by its relevance to here and now, however. 
Kenneth Grahame drew a merciless picture of the thoughtless, obnoxious Toad, and he’s no different in Jan Needle’s account of him, but Grahame’s fearsome stoats, weasels and ferrets of the Wildwood are depicted here with empathy for their struggles to survive in an uncaring world. They mobilise, they are full of revolutionary fervour, they plan the grand coup…but in the end, things are much as they were; albeit slightly better for some.
 There are wonderful touches of laugh-out-loud humour – the rabble-rousing stoat Boddington is ‘peculiarly yellow, a little lacking in body, extremely bitter, but one of the best.’  Toad’s fine wines include Visage de Poisson; Schloss Katzenjammer is a German beer. It is delightful, tongue-in-cheek stuff and the Willie Rushton illustrations complement it perfectly.  If your spirits need lifting, this is the book for you. If you’re already uplifted, read it anyway – it’s a gem.