Sunday, 15 July 2012

Review: The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket

There's nothing unusual about the Brockets. Normal, respectable, and proud of it, they turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it's clear he's anything but ordinary. To his parents' horror, Barnaby defies the laws of gravity - and floats.

Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground - but he just can't do it. One fateful day, the Brockets decide enough is enough. They never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. Barnaby has to go . . .

Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon - and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of extraordinary new friends.

Is there no end to the talent of John Boyne? 

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas = incredible!

Noah Barleywater Runs Away = amazing!

And now The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket has eclipsed both of these books in my heart and mind, and in doing so has also become a contender for my 2012 Book of the Year.

I first heard about Barnaby Brocket back in January, at a bloggers' brunch held by my good friends at Random House, and then again at their summer brunch. At both of these events, the team seemed somewhat awestruck when spoke about this book, with their descriptions littered with words like Dahl-esqe, heart warming, moving, emotional, and uplifting. I left that latest brunch looking forward to a number of their forthcoming titles, including the likes of Dodger by Terry Pratchett and Red Rain by R.L. Stein, but for some reason it was this new book by John Boyne that intrigued me the most.

If you have read either of Boyne's previous books for younger readers then you will know what to expect from Barnaby Brocket - a heart warming and uplifting tale that will tug mercilessly at your heartstrings, with some pretty heavy themes that are woven into the story with humour and deftness of touch that make the book suitable for the both younger audience at which it is aimed, and every age group onwards. You would also know to expect the unexpected.

If Alistair and Eleanor Brocket have on goal in life it is to be normal. To have normal jobs, live in a normal house and have normal children. They certainly do not want to do anything that makes them stand out from the crowd. They are mightily happy as the first two children born into the family prove to be normal to the core, but it is when the third comes along, the titular Barnaby, that the foundations of their world of normality are well and truly shaken. Unlike that of his siblings, Barnaby's birth is not an easy one for his mother, and then when he is born the doctor and nurses step back in amazement as he floats up to the ceiling. From this moment on we begin to see just how terrifyingly ghastly his parents can be in pursuit of their goal, as they try to deal with having a child who is as far from normal as can be. And their comes their ultimate act of betrayal as parents - abandonment. At this point, Barnaby embarks on a journey that sees him travelling around the world, encountering a host of other "different" people along the way.

Although the premise of a boy who somehow defies the law of gravity seems somewhat fantastical, at the root of the story is the concept of being normal, and what happens to those who don't necessarily conform to society's ideals of exactly what constitutes normality. Barnaby's "difference" is that he floats, but for many others it could be a disability, a desire to follow an unusual dream, or simply wanting to do something different from the wishes of a parent. As Barnaby meets person after person who at some point have dared to be different, and are proud of the decisions they have made in life, his own feelings regarding his 'affliction' are shaped, even though all he really wants is to get back to his parents back in Australia. Yes, the thoroughly nasty parents who abandoned him.

To describe Barnaby Brocket as Dahl-esqe is I feel very appropriate. John Boyne has again created a protagonist and host of supporting characters, both good and bad, that will enthral readers, young and old alike. As this book is written for younger readers then the bad characters are very obviously very bad, just as the good characters that Barnaby encounters are obviously very good. There is also a very strong moral running through the story, that may possibly seen exaggerated to the more older and cynical reader, but are an essential part of this as a story for kids (does anybody criticise the morals behind the likes of Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I think not).

This is a perfect story for 8+ children, although it will be enjoyed just as much by those younger if read to them by an adult as a bedtime story. I wouldn't be surprised if, in thirty years time, people talk about this book as fondly as they do now about Roald Dahl's various masterpieces of children's fiction. The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket is destined to be a classic and my thanks go to the lovely people at Doubleday for sending me a copy to review, so I can say in a few decade's time that I was there at (or at least quite near) the beginning.

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket is scheduled to be published in hardback on 2nd August.


  1. So excited for this book! Loved Noah Barleywater!

  2. This sounds absolutely wonderful, you've convinced me to add it straight to my wishlist!

  3. Each book by John Boyne appears to be better than the last, so I really should make a point of reading one before long!

  4. I am really amazed. Today I spent a lot of my spare time trying to find something interesting on this topic. Finally I found your site. Thanks for that!

  5. Great review! I read this one this week and couldnt put it down, I'm keeping my copy to hand for when I have kids so I can read them it at bedtime! Its a strong contender for my book of the year too!